2020.02.12 11:58

US hopes to supply gas to Belarus via Lithuania

BNS 2020.02.12 11:58

The United States hopes to supply gas to Belarus via the Klaipėda-based LNG terminal, the country's new Ambassador to Lithuania Robert Gilchrist told BNS.

Belarus has recently imported oil via Klaipėda amid the standoff with Moscow over tarrifs. Lithuanian officials have also said Minsk could import gas via the port of Klaipeda. However, some analysts warn that the Moscow-controlled company Gazprom has leverage to block competition in Belarus.

Read more: Lithuania nudges Belarus out of Russia's energy grip

"I would love nothing more than to see American-sourced LNG go through Klaipėda and come to the Lithuanian market, or perhaps to Belarus as well," the US ambassador said in an interview with BNS.

Gilchrist said he discussed the issue in Washington with representatives of the US Department of State and also plans to discuss it during meetings with the Lithuanian government.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius offered Belarus an alternative to energy resources from Russia during their visits to Belarus earlier this month.

Asked by BNS whether specific negotiations on gas supplies to Belarus were underway, the US ambassador said the idea was rather new, adding that there's hope to achieve a result.

Read more: US welcomes Lithuania's engagement with Belarus, FM says ahead of Minsk visit

"The secretary just travelled there a week-and-a-half ago. So I think it's all still fairly fresh but this has already been something that I know the US is interested in and that will be a part of conversations [...] as I go around the government in coming days," Gilchrist said.

Belarus could buy gas via the Klaipeda terminal "which would contribute to reducing Gazprom's dominance [in Belarus]," Lithuanian Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas said in a comment sent to BNS.

"Belarus could already have benefit from the Klaipėda LNG terminal and the Lithuanian gas infrastructure," he added.

Even more opportunities for gas imports to Belarus will open up in early 2022 when the Lithuanian-Polish gas interconnection GIPL comes online, said Vaičiūnas.

Read more: Lithuania and Poland look to help Belarus withstand Moscow's pressure

"Once the Baltic markets connect with the European market, there will be more possibilities to attract bigger gas suppliers, which should increase competition and should ensure better gas prices," the minister said.

Analysts say at this stage it's very difficult for Belarus to have alternative gas supplies as Gazprom, the main gas supplier, has also controlled the gas pipelines in the country since 2011.

"Therefore, it's much more difficult to find a solution for the gas issue than the one for oil," Laurynas Jonavičius from theVilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science told BNS.

Read more: Belarus to buy Russian oil at 'global market' prices

Looking for alternatives to supplies from Russia, Minsk last month imported a shipment crude oil from Norway via Lithuania's port of Klaipeda, which was delivered to Belarus by Lithuania's railway company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways).

Read more: Belarus calls for regular oil imports via Baltics as first shipment arrives in Lithuania

Lithuania's intelligence said in its report earlier this month that Russia's negotiations with Belarus on energy cooperation and deeper integrations are turning into political pressure.

"Russia seeks to increase its influence on Belarus by using its weak, non-diversified economy dependent on Russian energy [imports] as the main lever," according to the report on threats to national security.

Read more: Russia and China seek foothold in Lithuania via gas and tech – report