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19th Apr 2019

Lithuania nuclear shutdown to test EU-Russia relations

  • The Ignalina plant: built on the same model as the Chernobyl reactor, which saw the worst nuclear disaster in history (Photo: wikipedia)

One of Russia's fiercest critics in the EU, Lithuania, will at the turn of the New Year switch off a nuclear power station, in a move set to test the theory that Russia uses energy as a political weapon.

The shutdown of the Ignalina plant - at 11pm local time on 31 December - is being carried out in line with Lithuania's EU accession promise following concerns that its Chernobyl-type reactor is unsafe.

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The small, post-Soviet country is building a new reactor expected to go online between 2018 and 2020 and will in 2015 and 2016 benefit from new electricity supply "bridges" to Poland and Sweden.

The interim period is set to see power prices spike by up to 70 percent at a time of recession, however.

It will also see Lithuania almost entirely reliant on imports of energy from Russia amid the prevailing belief in former Iron Curtain countries that Moscow uses gas and oil cut-offs as a tool of political pressure on its former vassals.

Russia in 2006 shut off oil supplies to Lithuania via the Druzhba pipeline after Vilnius sold a petrol refinery to a Polish bidder instead of a Russian state-owned firm. The dispute saw Lithuania threaten to veto a new EU-Russia treaty unless the EU commission intervened on its side.

Relations on the Russia-Lithuania-EU axis were again tested in 2008 when Vilnius urged the EU to impose sanctions on Russia following its military attack on Georgia, another small, former Soviet country.

Lithuanian president and former EU commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite has in recent days tried to reassure people that the Ignalina closure will not alter relations with its neighbour.

"The Lithuanian energy system was and is dependent on Russia, because our energy sources, our supply of gas and power, are tied to that country," she told the Baltic News Service.

But with the political climate set to sharpen in early 2010, as Lithuania gears up to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union, others in the administration are not so sure.

"If our parliament issues a declaration ...which they don't like, they will punish us, as they did Ukraine," a senior Lithuanian diplomat recently told EUobserver, referring to Russia's gas cut-offs during the term of office of Moscow-critical Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.

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