Monday, April 19, 2021

Thirty Years after Regaining Independence, Baltic Countries Test Turning Off Electric Power from Russia and Belarus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 – There is no question that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have sought to make a more complete break with those things that have linked it to the former Soviet republics, but even they have remained tied, sometimes by necessity and sometimes by choice, to links with them.

            They are still connected with the railways of their eastern neighbors and work together with them to ensure that the trains run safely and on time. And they are still linked into the electric power grid including Belarus and the Russian Federation, in a collective grid known as BRELL.

            But this week, in anticipation of ending that power relationship completely by 2025, the Baltic countries flipped a switch cutting them off from the Belarusian-Russian power grid. That was possible because they are now increasingly tied into the power grid of the European Union (

            Not surprisingly, as Mariya Yepifanova of Moscow’s Novaya gazeta writes, “Russia sees in this an exclusively political explanation and is calculating the losses which it supposes the residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the final consumers of electric power, will suffer as a result.”

            But the Baltic governments say that any difficulties are temporary and that their countries will “in the final analysis only benefit by breaking electric ties with Russia.” But Russia has longer term concerns, not only in terms of its influence over these countries but about its ability to deliver electric power to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

            The three Baltic countries, on the one hand, and Russia and Belarus, on the other, were gradually separating with Estonia taking the lead in establishing a power link with Finland. But after the Crimean Anschluss in 2014, all the Baltic governments decided they needed to break with the east as far as electric power is concerned.

            That desire has only been intensified because of concerns about the safety of the nuclear power plant in Belarus, Yepifanova continues.

            Latvian officials say that the test went well and according to agreements between the Baltic countries and their new energy supplies, Poland, Sweden and Finland. And Belarusian officials agree that the test was successful showing that Minsk could deal with the power shutoff without negative consequences for Kaliningrad.

            Russian observers, pointing to a jump in spot energy prices in Lithuania, say that the Balts are only harming themselves. But officials in those countries say the change in spot prices was an overreaction because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already reduced their reliance on power from Russia and Belarus to a small fraction of what it was.

            Not only are these countries getting power from European states but they are developing their own power production capabilities. And they like all EU countries are now focused on developing renewable energy production rather than continuing to rely on coal, oil and gas produced electric power.

            That is the future, Juris Ozolins, a former Latvian energy minister says. The question is: where is Russia in all this? It hasn’t yet made a commitment to make such a change and will only fall further and further behind.

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