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Monday 19.03.2018 | Name days: Jāzeps

Lithuania and Latvia: the tale between two sisters marked with rivalry

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULinas Jegelevičius

Relations between Lithuania and Latvia, two tight-knit Baltic neighbours, may exemplify a sisterly relationship from the first sight, but just over the course of a single week, several pings rang, signalling that rivalry is, and has always been, a component of coexistence.

First, Viktoras Pranckietis, the speaker of the Lithuanian Seimas, on Monday, February 19, urged Latvia to ink its maritime border treaty with Lithuania. The speaker raised this issue during his meeting with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis in Riga.

«For more than ten years, the Latvian side has shown no political will to address the key problem. Expert-level discussion on resource sharing issues alone are not meaningful,» Pranckietis said.

And a few days later, it turned out that, back in the 2000s, Lithuania may have cheated Latvia.

«In the late 2000s, Lithuania promised Latvia to support its efforts to build a liquefied natural gas terminal near Riga, but broke that promise… I had no serious arguments in defence of Lithuania’s policy. I do not know why it was decided not to fulfil the promises made to the Latvians,» Antanas Valionis, who at that time served as Lithuania’s ambassador to Riga, wrote in his new book «In the Political Pendulum» released this week.

Andrius Kubilius, who served as Lithuania’s prime minister between 2008 and 2012, rushed to say that no such promise was made to Latvia and that the neighbouring country’s government had no intention of building a such terminal.

He says it was a privately-owned company linked to Gazprom that sought to develop a LNG terminal project in Latvia, a plan that was at that time unacceptable to the then government of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis.

According to Kubilius, there were private initiatives for building a LNG terminal in Latvia and «(Juris) Savickis, a well-known Latvian businessman who was at the helm of Itera, which was a subsidiary company of Russia’s Gazprom, tried to put these (initiatives) into practice».

However, Valionis counter-argues, saying that it was agreed during Dombrovskis’ visit to Lithuania in 2009 that a power interconnection with Sweden will be built from Klaipėda and, according to the diplomat-turned-author, Lithuania in return will help the Latvians to obtain about 45 million euros from the EU for reinforcing their western electricity grid and that both countries will jointly build a regional liquefied natural gas terminal near Riga using Brussels’ money.

«However, we built a huge (LNG) terminal in Klaipėda, whose capacity is well above Lithuania’s needs, and the Baltic region no longer needs a second one. We damaged our relations with the neighbours for a long time,» Valionis stated.

With the diplomat shedding some light on the countries’ contemporary history, it is the matter of the dragged-on procrastination of the ratification of the maritime border treaty that makes a dent in the countries’ relations.

«Lithuania would welcome Latvia’s wish to start the process of ratifying the treaty in the parliament,» Pranckietis, the Parliament speaker, emphasised in Riga.

Latvia appears to be reluctant to ratify the border deal because an abundant oil deposit is believed to be present at the line dividing the countries‘  maritime borders in the Baltic Sea. At stake is billions of euros of revenues from a huge oil pool in the sea.

Only in the summer of 2016, the-then Latvian government resumed talks with Lithuania on the treaty and renewed a working group.

When asked why the Latvians are reluctant to hasten its signing, Lithuanian Foreign Affairs minister Linas Linkevičius in July of 2016 was quoted as saying, that an oil deposit might be behind the drag.

«I reckon it has to do with it. I hardly can imagine there being other reasons (for the procrastination),» the minister said then.

It is thought that the market value of the oil pool on the line dividing the maritime borders of Lithuania and Latvia can be in the range of 40 billion euros with the preliminary quantity of it being assessed at 100 million tons. Only an explorative drilling can provide a more accurate estimate. However, many experts believe that the deposit is far larger than all the oil reservoirs Lithuania has now. OPAB, a Swedish company, was licensed in 2002 to drill the pool, however, it cannot proceed due to the void in international maritime jurisdiction.

According to Lithuanian geologists, an average oil pool in Lithuania contains from 10,000 tons to 1 million tons of oil. Lithuania extracts on average ca 80,000-100,000 tons of oil yearly. For comparison, the consumption of oil and oil products is in the range of 2,5 million tons of oil in Lithuania.

In a written reply to BNN, officials of the Communications Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (URM) of the Republic of Lithuania stated that talks between Lithuania and Latvia on the treaty of the territorial maritime border are «finished» with the sides signing the agreement in 1999.

«The ratifying of the treaty in the countries‘ legislatures is now part of their interior procedures and is not an object of international talks,» the response says. The reference to international talks followed the suggestion that the European Union should have its say in the row.

«Lithuanian Parliament ratified the treaty back in 1999 and the rest now needs to be done exceptionally by Latvia. Lithuania cannot influence Latvia regarding its interior political decisions…Lithuania has however always emphasised its readiness to solve all the issues related to the matter,» the URM statement reads.

Inquired whether the procrastination makes a dent in the neighbours’ mutual relations, the Lithuanian ministry officials claimed that it does not have «a negative affect.»

«Relations are active and are being successfully developed. However, due to the inability to proceed with the exploitation of the subterranean resources (oil), the potential of the countries’ economic cooperation is not fully tapped so far,» the Ministry accentuated.

It seems however that both countries have a pretty long list of issues where the positions differ.

Neither Latvia nor Estonia has supported Lithuania‘s proposal to jointly operate the expensive Klaipeda liquefied natural gas terminal.  Latvia along with Estonia has bristled against the Lithuanian proposal to prolong the tracks of Rail Baltica railway to Vilnius.  And then here comes the stance of Latvia on the contested issue of a nuclear power plant in Belarus Astravyets.  Last summer, Edgar Rinkevičs, the Latvian Foreign minister, angered Lithuania by saying that Latvia was not going to block the electricity from Belarus, although Lithuania had launched an international campaign against the imports.

«The three Baltic States remind me the fairy-tale about three piglets, who were building their separate homes and hoped to shun menace of the wolf. Their stupid trust in themselves has nearly cost them their lives. Thank God that one of the piglets has built its house from concrete, which was too hard for the wolf to break in,» Julius Panka, a nationalist Lithuanian politician, summarised relations between the Baltic States in a commentary last year.

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  1. WTF says:

    Not sure it’s useful to quote Panka in this context – or in any context, in fact.
    I assume the Lithuania nazi-onalist was talking about Estonia being the place that the wolf coundn’t break?

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