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Lithuania swallows bitter pill: Latvia will not join in bid to block Astravyets NPP electricity

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

Another blown has been dealt to the Baltic unity and Lithuania especially after Latvia announced last week it will not block electricity from the to-be Astravyets nuclear power plant (NPP).

The announcement by Edgars Rinkēvičs, the Latvian foreign minister, left the Lithuanian political establishment and analysts wondering what is behind the neighbour‘s determination.

«I would think it is related to the economic collaboration between Latvia and Belarus, specifically, I reckon, the former‘s will to enhance economic activity in Ventspils seaport. Yet the issue (of the Astravyets plant project) is not part of our relations with Latvia – it has to be viewed in a much broader context, not only regionally, but through the interests of the entire European Union,» Linas Linkevičius, the minister of Lithuania‘s Foreign Affairs, pondered.

Asked to elaborate on the assumption that Latvians leave Lithuanians alone in the fight against the Belarusian venture out of economic calculations, Linkevičius added that Belarusians now cannot imagine their cargo export without Lithuania’s Klaipeda seaport, but with the Astravyets project souring the relations, Ventspils can be an alternative.

«Let‘s not forget the factor of Ventspils seaport. My guess is Latvians want to see it having more possibilities of collaboration with Belarus. There might be some other reasons, too,» the minister reasoned.

According to him, the Latvian position ahead of Rinkēvičs‘s visit to Belarus is «quite understandable» from the point of diplomacy.

«It is common to positively comment things expecting that the communication can produce some economic gains,» the member of Lithuanian government underscored speaking to Lithuanian media last week.

Linkevičius admitted, however, he would want a stricter position by Latvia on the issue of the Belarusian nuclear project.

«One that not only would raise issues of the would-be facility‘s safety, but also one that would consolidate the politics with Lithuania. We have talked about it with Latvians not on a single occasion. In fact, I met my Latvian counterpart (Rinkēvičs) quite recently and he promised that he would raise the issue of Astravyets NPP safety during his visit to Minsk. He assured me that our position is «understandable and acceptable,» Linkevičius recalled before adding, «However, it is not enough to understand – we need joint politics on the issue from all countries, especially those in the region.»

The Lithuanian minister expects that Latvia‘s position may change provided the other countries in the region come in support of Lithuania in its bid to halt the Astravyets project.

The Lithuanian Parliament, Seimas, has recently passed a law prohibiting Astravyets NPP electricity imports deeming the facility unsafe and posing threat to Lithuania‘s national security, environment and public health.

Meanwhile, Minsk has been rebutting the complaints as unsubstantiated and biased.

Most of the zingers under articles in Lithuanian media on Latvia’s intention to greenlight Astravyets electricity in the Latvian grid did not rebuke Latvia, but sneered at the incapacity of the Lithuanian Foreign ministry.

«I cannot wait when our diplomats will sour relations with the nearest neighbours (Latvians) over the Belarus facility. Our nemesis No1 is Russia, Belarus is No2 and Latvia will probably become No3 on the list. How pathetic is to accuse Latvians of splitting the unity and thinking of economic gains in the situation,» a commentator under the name of Vytautas said under the article in daily Lietuvos Žinios.

It seems that in Lithuania only the most patriotic Conservative MPs still cherish hopes to derail the Belarus atomic project while the most believe that Lithuania‘s efforts should be different – making sure that the plant over the border is as safe as possible.

«The Lithuanian Seimas has done all it could to halt the Astravyets project. Now it is the Government‘s turn to design a plan how to ensure that the electricity is kept off the Lithuanian grid,» Laurynas Kasčiūnas, a Conservative MP, told BNN.

In his words, the situation of Latvia is «quite different» from that of Lithuania when it comes to dealings with Belarus on the contested projected.

«Unlike us, it doesn‘t share the electricity transmission links with Belarus like wo do. Technically, Latvia cannot block the Belarusian power flows even if it wanted, so it has more space for maneuvering,»he emphasised.

That Estonia and Poland have voiced their support for Lithuania is extremely important, he believes, and Latvia may be persuaded to back the electricity boycotting efforts eventually.

Kasčiūnas believes it is urgent for Lithuania to get the European Commission on its side in the striving.

«Alas, the Commission has been quite neutral when it comes to the Belarus project. It is a sign our diplomats ought to do a lot more explaining danger that the plant poses,» the MP said.

Meanwhile, Vytautas Dumbliauskas, a political analyst, is convinced that Lithuania is not capable of stopping the Belarusian venture.

«What I see being done is a series of attempts to create a big buzz about it. The politicians strive to conjure up an impression that Lithuania does all it can to stop it. They simply have no other choice,» the analyst said.

The risks arising from the construction 50 kilometres away from the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, are immense, he agrees, however.

«I like to say this when speaking of them: it is enough for the to-be facility to spit out a tiny radioactive cloud to spook all investors in Lithuania for years and slash the real estate prices in Vilnius significantly. It is very likely this is what Russia wants, but our abilities, it seems to me, are exhausted,» he underscored.

Asked about Latvia‘s intention not to boycott the Belarus electricity, he said the neighbour‘s position did not surprise him at all.

«Latvia watches its own interests first of all. It would not be good for Latvia to exasperate Belarus with which it has overwhelming economic ties and interests. We have to admit that although neighbouring countries tend to speak of unity and mutual collaboration, it is the interests that take over at the end of the day,» the analyst suggested.

Reinis Aboltiņš a Latvian energy expert, told BNN he doubts whether Lithuania can derail the Astravyets NPP project.

«All it can seek is as much of transparency in the construction, maintenance and operations of the plant as possible,» the expert underlined.

Explaining Latvia‘s position, he share the opinion that Latvia is not against the project because of the economic calculations.

«Latvian and Belarusian economies are very intertwined, especially in the transportation system, I mean the railroads first of all,» Aboltiņš emphasised. «The Latvian Foreign minister has assumed a very pragmatic stance and it is understandable to us, Latvians, not to Lithuanians though, which is very understandable, too.»

Ref: 020/111.111.111.4815


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