Opinion: How Russia wages hybrid energy war against Lithuania

Arvydas Sekmokas
DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

However, one must also not forget other hybrid war elements used by Russia, which, from the very beginning of our Independence, have been tested also in Lithuania’s energy sector. Such undeclared war has, is and, it seems, will continue. Therefore, we can defend ourselves from such attacks only by naming manifestations of this war.

Economic-energy sabotage

Among the elements of such a war, I would first of all name economic-energy sabotage.

Lithuania’s has experienced several big economic-energy sabotages by Russia.

The first such sabotage happened in spring 1990, right after restoration of Lithuania’s independence, and continued for over two months. During a declared economic blockade, oil supply for Lithuania was cut off, sales of petrol restricted, railway wagons with goods and raw material stopped.

In 2006, a new sabotage by Russia – termination of oil supply to Mažeikiai oil refinery plant via the “Druzhba” pipeline – was a reaction against selling the company to Polish “PKN Orlen”. This sabotage continues until now, with Russia claiming technical issues affecting the pipeline and refusing to repair it.

Finally, the Russian company “Gazprom”, which unilaterally and deceptively changed conditions of 2004 privatization agreement of “Lietuvos dujos” (Lithuanian gas) and unduly increased gas sales prices, which brought Lithuanian consumers losses amounting close to LTL 5bn. Such action has a merit to be rated as economic-energy sabotage.

We see that earlier sabotages of physical destruction, or damage to energy infrastructure, are now replaced by more sophisticated measures: termination of energy supply or unilateral price hikes. The total loss caused by the latter sabotages of Russia against Lithuania have not been calculated yet.

Information attacks took place before and continue now

Information attacks by Russia have been targeting practically all projects which increase Lithuania’s energy security.

The main tools used for such attacks were: 

1. Protests of local communities against strategic object or track construction in its territory;

2. Environmental protests against alleged environmental damage while fabricating or significantly exaggerating it;

3. Objections to the object or potential accidental hazard for particular location of even for residents of entire Lithuania;

4. Slander of economic project and its executors using false data and incorrect calculations, raising accusations for non-transparency, corruption, spending;

5. Alternative projects directed in order to raise doubts and stop projects which are initiated or implemented by Lithuania.

Especially numerous and fierce information attacks were aimed at Būtingė oil terminal, Visaginas Nuclear plant (VAE) project, liquid gas terminal (LNG) in Klaipeda, shale gas exploration and extraction. Lower scale attacks were executed also against other projects – construction of electricity switchyard in Bitėnai or construction of „LitPolLink“ line to Poland.

New National energy strategy prepared by Lithuanian energy institute can also be regarded as information attack. Though strengthening Lithuania’s energy security is named to be one of strategic directions, the document does not mention a single strategic project or any other mean how to reach energy security. On the contrary, questionable electricity price forecasts are used to justify that Lithuania does not need its own base power generation, and that the most expedient is electricity import from European Union or third countries. For Lithuania third countries mean Belarus and Russia.

Information attacks are dangerous not only because they cause apathy of a large part of society, doubts or hostility to the projects under implementation. They [attacks] constitute a base for ominous political sabotages with local and international consequences.

Political sabotages

First such political sabotage was referendum against Visaginas nuclear plant (VAE) project. Antipode and competition of the two biggest Lithuanian political parties in the Seimas (parliamentary) elections – the Social Democrats and the conservative Homeland Union – were used for it. Though in the phase of project development both parties supported and promoted this project, and social democrats launched the project with Mr. Algirdas Mykolas Brazauskas as Prime Minister, the third powers managed to impose referendum.

Results of this referendum disparage Lithuania first of all in the eyes of regional partners as well as other project-related parties. Failure of VAE project is utilized in Belarus where Astraviets nuclear plant is constructed with Russia’s efforts and financing; the plant that does not meet international requirements and that cause real threat to Lithuania. In the face of crisis in Ukraine, result of such referendum regarding VAE, most probably would be different today.

Political sabotage is also activity and conclusions of the so-called Artūras Skardžius [an MP] commission, which were approved by the Seimas. Through commission failed to reach its target – discredit and stop Klaipeda LNG construction, nevertheless the project was vilified and its executors slandered.

Sabotage are also amendments to the Laws and draft laws on natural gas tax initiated by the Government and the Seimas, which made company “Chevron” withdraw from Lithuania.

Approval of National energy strategy in the Government and its adoption in Seimas would be another malicious activity against Lithuania’s energy security. Information attacks and political sabotages are specific in the sense that part of Lithuania’s politicians, scientists and journalists are active executors or participants of the latter. They have been drawn into these sabotages due to the lack of understanding, naivety or, even, malevolently.

Long journey to energy independence

Construction of LNG in Klaipėda is close to completion, works started laying a higher power gas pipeline from Klaipėda to Kiemėnai. Electric cable is stretched via the Baltic Sea bed to Sweden, electric line is constructed to Poland. Political and legal works of all these projects are finished and funding is due.

We have full confidence to expect that these projects would be finished before 2016. It will be energy bridges connecting Lithuania and the Baltic states with the European energy market.

Before 2016 one more very important task is left, which would increase Lithuania’s energy security. It is an agreement on energy resource transit to Kaliningrad district. Lack of such agreement might serve as a pretext to put pressure on Lithuania using political, or maybe even military, means. Significance of energy transit agreement would be of no less value than that of the valid agreement on military transit. It is already now that Lithuania shall start consultations with NATO and the European Commission regarding such agreement.

All this can be called the first phase of the journey to energy independence. But bridges which connect us with the EU energy market and the energy infrastructure are not enough. In order to get free from the Russian influence zone we have to become part of the EU market and infrastructure, to reach full energy independence.

Threats in the strive for energy independence

The biggest threat is lack of determination and political will both in Vilnius and in Brussels to continue Lithuania’s energy independence policy. Unfortunately, there are signs that there might be lack of such political will.

Despite the agreement signed by all parliamentary political parties regarding funds for national defense financing, incorporating commitment to implement VAE (nuclear plant) project, it is not likely that the Lithuanian Government would say a clear YES.

Partial or full loss of state control in strategic energy infrastructure enterprises may become a serious threat to Lithuania’s energy security. Assurance of security is the cost of economic activity, and the goal of any investor is profit increase and reduction of all possible cost. Therefore, a big concern rises because of considerations to sell to financial investors part of shares belonging to companies which manage infrastructure of “Lietuvos dujos” (Lithuanian gas). Did we put enormous efforts to redeem shares from “E-On” and “Gazprom”, so as to step again into the same river?

Finally, we might get short of financial and human resources or these resources, needed to implement strategic energy security projects might be wasted. Proposal submitted by “Lietuvos energija” (Lithuanian energy) to purchase part of “Latvijas gaze” (Latvian gas) shares, which belong to “E-On” company, looks more as an attempt to buy a tale of the neighbor’s cat.

“Gazprom” has a major shareholding and Lithuania will have no possibility to reach decisions that are beneficial for the country, therefore it would only freeze funds which are needed for other strategic projects. In Lithuania we managed to get away from “friendly” embrace of “Gazprom”. It is unlikely that it would work in Latvia.

The history of 25 years of restored independence of Lithuania testifies that every step towards energy independence has been followed by hostile response from Russia. This is why it is likely that strategic energy projects that are nearing completion might again become cause or targets of Russia’s sabotage actions.

Eye-opening after Ukraine’s crisis

Crisis in Ukraine revealed that threats, including energy, are very real. An eye opening allowed to recognize importance of strategic energy security projects. It became obvious that energy projects last long and threats do not wait.

Lithuania can only itself assure energy security via implementation of energy independence policy. EU can support politically, allocate part of funds, but it will not implement strategic project for us.

A good example is Klaipėda LNG terminal. European Commission was more than sceptic about this project and treated it as an impediment to implement regional LNG terminal. Today we see that we were right – LNG in Klaipėda is inked number one in the EU energy security strategy, and negotiations with Finland and Estonia regarding regional terminal are broken down.

Energy security has a price but energy dependency is more expensive. Not taking on implementation of energy independence projects might lead to the same mistake, when adequate funding for national defense was not allocated in due time.

Arvydas Sekmokas is former minister of energy of Lithuania, member of the Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats

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