Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has said that Riga will stop trading electricity with Belarus if it launches the controversial Astravyets nuclear power plant some 50 kilometres from Vilnius.
Lithuania has been seeking a consensus among the Baltic states to prevent electricity from Astravyets from entering the common energy market. Up until now, only Riga had been saying it would continue the trade for technical reasons.
"I welcome the decision of our Latvian colleagues and brothers. It’s a logical decision, and, most importantly, I hope that it will pave the way for smoother implementation of the synchronization project," Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said on Wednesday.
The Baltic states and Belarus are part of a common energy grid controlled from Moscow. Lithuanian politicians previously said the Kremlin could use the Astravyets nuclear plant, under construction by Russia’s state atomic nuclear agency Rosatom, to stop the Baltic states from switching to a European power grid, scheduled to take place by 2025.
Read more: Kremlin may threaten nuclear incidents in Belarus to blackmail Lithuania – MP
"As you know, we have spent a lot of time negotiating on the purchase of electricity from third [non-EU] countries, [...] and we had certain disagreements of opinion,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius told BNS on Wednesday.
Latvia’s decision is also correct “geopolitically because of everything we are doing in preparation for the de-synchronisation from the East and synchronisation with the West, this decision is like a piece of a puzzle, a certain stage,” Linkevičius said.
The minister believes Riga's decision may have been influenced by a combination of factors, including Lithuania's position and the current political crisis in Belarus.
However, Latvia said it would trade with Russia, leaving a possibility for Astravyets energy to enter the common network via Russia. Therefore, talks on how to trade with non-EU countries will have to continue, according to Linkevičius.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Wednesday that Latvia’s decision “is a clear and direct example of the Baltic states' solidarity”.
“By spending our citizens' funds to pay for unsafe electricity form Belarus, we would directly support the brutal ways the government in that state is using to negate their citizens' opinion on the country's future, and also attempts to raise tensions in the region by imitating an alleged foe, the Baltic states,” Skvernelis said on Facebook..
Vilnius says the Astravyets nuclear plant some 30 kilometres from the Lithuanian border is being built in breach of safety standards. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda previously said it was a “tool” for the Kremlin to keep its influence in Belarus and pressure the Baltic states.
In August, Minsk said that nuclear fuel had been loaded in the first reactor. The plant will begin operating in autumn, according to Belarusian officials.
Read more: Lithuanian president convenes Defence Council as Belarus moves to launch nuclear plant
After Latvia decided to stop electricity trade with Belarus, several technical agreements will need to be signed. according to Lithuanian Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas.
“We are still holding discussions [...] and are planning on how to put these words into real deeds," he said.
Lithuania hopes to sign a political declaration together with Estonia and Latvia, which would commit the Baltic states to not buying electricity from Belarsu once it launches the nuclear plant.
Together, they should then endorse a trilateral methodology of trade with third countries, which would exclude Belarusian electricity from reaching the common market, according to Vaičiūnas.