Russian oppression led Lithuania to oil and gas independence

Russian oppression led Lithuania to oil and gas independence

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VILNIUS, Lithuania – The Baltic nation’s Energy Ministry sits across a side street from a former KGB prison, where during decades of Soviet rule Lithuanian dissidents were interrogated, tortured and killed .

A museum in part of the building tells the story of those years, showing the damp cells and bullet-riddled execution chamber the Soviets used to crush resistance during and after World War II.

From his office overlooking the former prison, Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys says this story is the fuel that has driven Lithuania, an independent nation since the 1991 Soviet collapse, to spend years working for freedom. Russian oil and gas.

“Throughout our history, we have had to fight for our independence, for our survival“, Kreivys said in a recent interview. “In Lithuania, energy is said to be the second pillar, after the army, of our national security.”

That meant a years-long construction spree to build oil and gas import terminals, pipelines and other infrastructure to prepare the country to live without energy from the continent’s biggest supplier, Russia.

While Germany was helping build two undersea gas pipelines to dramatically increase its imports of Russian natural gas, Lithuania was spending its taxpayers’ money just to break free. The effort paid off last month, when the nation of 2.8 million people was able to stop its remaining gas purchases from Russia to protest the invasion of Ukraine. He broke his dependence on Russian oil years ago.

The long-simmering hostility toward Moscow and its historic subjugation of Eastern Europe is the propellant that has driven the continent’s most successful energy independence movements. The other Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, as well as Poland, are years ahead of other European Union countries in rejecting Russian oil and gas.

Polish strategy to end Russian gas imports is put to the test

Some say they tried to warn Germany over the years as it deepened its reliance on Moscow via Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines from Russia.

“Germany claimed that this project was fully economic, [that] it has nothing to do with politics, and they couldn’t see any problem [with] independence from Germany and all of Europe,” Anna Moskwa, Poland’s climate and environment minister, said in an interview in Warsaw. “For us it was a problem, given the history we had, from all over Europe.”

Poland’s efforts now put it in a position to help Germany in its race to shake off its Russian habit. During talks in Warsaw last month, the countries discussed ways in which Germany could use Poland’s oil infrastructure to break its dependence on Russian supplies.

Lithuania has a bitter history of Russian occupation, beginning with the forces of Catherine the Great in 1795. The nation regained its independence after World War I, but external rule returned during World War II, when the Germany briefly occupied the country and enlisted Lithuanian collaborators to help in the massacre. majority of the country’s Jewish population. Lithuania then fell to the Soviet Union, which forcibly incorporated it as a Soviet republic in 1944.

Thousands of guerrilla fighters continued to resist Soviet rule in the post-war years, a movement ultimately crushed by torture, executions and mass deportations to Siberia. In the KGB Museum’s basement execution chamber, the discarded eyeglasses and shoes of some of these supporters are displayed on the floor next to a bullet-riddled wall.

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Lithuania felt a different kind of pressure after it became the first Soviet republic to declare independence in March 1990. At that time, Moscow had built a network of pipelines and refineries to deliver heavily subsidized oil and gas from Siberia to Eastern Europe, and he took advantage of this network to punish his recalcitrant republic.

In April 1990, Moscow sharply reduced oil and gas deliveries to Lithuania for more than two months, causing gasoline prices to soar and many factories to close.

Lithuania was desperate to get supplies from Norway and other countries, but it didn’t have the money to pay or the power to run foreign tankers around the Soviet Navy. It was a first lesson that if Lithuania wanted to have sovereignty in its decisions, it had to buy energy elsewhere, Kreivys said.

“Russia has always, always used energy as a tool for geopolitical influence,” Kreivys said.

Initially after its independence, it hired an American company to build a new oil import terminal which was completed in 1999. Buying oil this way was more expensive but freed Lithuania from reliance on pipelines Russians.

The risk of such reliance was underscored later the same year, when Lithuania sold a stake in its Soviet-era refinery to an American bidder instead of a Russian rival, prompting Russia to impose a blockade. sporadic tanker on the installation via a pipeline that the Soviets had. called Friendship.

Energy pressure worsened after Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000 and after Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. Russia started charging Lithuania much more for natural gas than other European customers. And after Lithuania chose a Polish buyer over a Russian suitor when its refinery was put up for sale again, it once again found that Russia was shutting down crude shipments.

This prompted Lithuania to accelerate its efforts to break free, drawing up plans for a new terminal to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) via Baltic Sea shipments.

When Putin warned against going ahead with the gas project, in a rare meeting in 2010 with then Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, he only motivated Vilnius to move faster, Romas Svedas said. , who was then Deputy Minister of Energy.

Grybauskaite is “a very strong personality, and immediately she said, ‘No, we will develop alternatives,'” Svedas said in an interview.

“We were forced to build a huge LNG terminal when our neighbor is the richest country in the world in natural gas,” he said. “It’s a paradox, but basically Putin pushed, as he pushes the whole world, to make a choice for democratic values.”

The LNG plan met with resistance in the Lithuanian parliament, where some lawmakers questioned the wisdom of building such an expensive project in a small country. Kreivys and Svedas blamed Russian disinformation for the obstruction, which was eventually overcome.

Local opposition also arose when Lithuania brought in Chevron to explore for shale gas, which would ultimately have required hydraulic fracturing to extract it. Again, Svedas suspected Russian craftsmanship.

A handful of anti-shale billboards have mysteriously appeared on the main highway out of Vilnius. When local reporters investigated, some of the billboard companies said an individual bought them, but they would not name the person, Svedas said. No central or local government official would claim responsibility.

“In Lithuania, normally, if you have a position, you make it public. You take to the streets and say no to shale, no to war. It’s okay, we are a democratic country,” he said.

Despite the obstacles, the LNG terminal started operating in 2014 and helped bring down gas prices for Lithuania, officials say. The country continued to buy gas through pipelines from Russia, which lowered its prices to compete with LNG supplies.

But after Russia invaded Ukraine, Lithuania was the first European country to announce that it would immediately stop buying Russian gas. Latvia soon followed and Estonia declared they would stop by the end of the year. “Our terminal also provides them,” Kreivys said.

This week, Lithuania and Poland opened a new gas pipeline connecting the countries and allowing them to share gas – a welcome development after Russia abruptly halted gas deliveries to Poland last week.

“Together we say NO to Russian gas, NO to Russian oil, NO to war funding,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said. tweeted after the opening ceremony on Thursday.

Shared electricity is the last remaining link with Russia that Lithuania is rushing to cut. It still draws about 10% of its electricity from a network built during the Soviet era and controlled by Moscow.

The transmission loop connects the three Baltic states with Belarus and western Russia, creating an interdependence that no country can break without hurting itself and others, said Rokas Masiulis, head of the Lithuanian power grid.

Yet Vilnius is scrambling to build new electricity links to Poland and the EU in a bid to leave the Soviet-era grid behind.

“By the end of 2025, we will be ready to desynchronize from Russia,” Masiulis said.

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