A spokesperson for Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda confirmed he snubbed a meeting of the Baltic heads of state on Thursday due to a lack of common policy on Belarussian Nuclear Power Plant Astravyets. Lithuania wants the countries to agree to a boycott.
Nauseda's spokesman Antanas Bubnelis told BNS the meeting was planned a long time ago and should have focused on regional security, anti-coronavirus measures, EU issues as well as the non-purchase of electricity from the Astravyets nuclear power plant.
"The energy or economy ministers have failed to reach trilateral agreement on the updated methodology on the purchase of electricity from third countries," Bubnelis said.
In his words, the Lithuanian president believes the negotiations should be finished first and specific decisions and the negotiation results should be in place and only then a top-level meeting should be held and the countries' action plans should be discussed.
The Baltic leaders regularly exchange opinions on other issues and coordinate their positions, Bubnelis said.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid and Latvian leader Egils Levits met on Saaremaa on Thursday and discussed EU, regional security, environmental and other issues.
The Estonian president's office said Nauseda "made a last-minute decision to stay home due to internal matters".
The incident represents something of a first, ERR's online news in Estonian reports, as no Baltic head of state has declined to meet with leaders from the other two countries due to political reasons, in recent years.
The Astravyets plant is nearing completion and lies only a few kilometers from the border with Lithuania. Both safety and environmental concerns have been raised about the plant in the past. The Lithuanian government has been against the construction of the power plant since it's inception.
The three Baltic States are decoupling from the Russian and Belarusian electricity grids and will synchronize their systems with those of the EU by 2025.
Until then electricity imports from the two countries – which are often cheaper since they are not subject to EU emissions taxes – will still enter all three countries, either directly or indirectly, as well as reaching the Finnish market.
Vilnius: Astravyets unsafe, tool for Russian Kremlin to pressure Baltics via Minsk
Vilnius sees the Astravyets plant, approximately 50 km from the Lithuanian capital, as both environmentally unsafe and a potential way for the Russian Federation to pressure Belarus, which shares a border with both Lithuania and Latvia.
Now the power station is finally nearing completion, boycotting its electricity output has become one of the most pressing issues in the run-up to the elections in Lithuania.
At the same time, while the Baltic States plan to stop buying Russian and Belarusian electricity from 2025, this is not yet possible, Latvia's economic affairs ministry told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday night, in part because, technically speaking, Latvia is not connected to the Belarusian grid.
Repercussions of doing so would lead to higher electricity prices and the possibility that Belarus will prevent transit through its territory so far as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are concerned.
"Our position is based on the fact that we are technically connected only to Russia. We understand Lithuania's concerns, but from the point of view of electricity trade we should be able to combine political and technical considerations," the Latvian ministry said.
In any event, if Lithuania stopped importing Belarusian electricity, it could still find its way on to the Latvian market via the NordPool marketplace, the ministry added.
Lithuania's environmental concerns include the fact that the Astravyets plant's cooling water is connected to the River Neris, which flows through Vilnius and into the Nemunas at Kaunas.
Lithuania's energy minister Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius also noted the geopolitical dimension, saying that Lithuania wants to be independent of electricity generation and supply to the east.
Latvia remains confident that the three countries will reach agreement in due course, AK reported.
American think tank the Jamestown Foundation wrote the Astravyets plant will be a 2,400-megawatt-electric (MWe) plant, with two VVER-1200 reactors. It is being built by Atomstroyexport, an affiliate of Russia's state-owned Rosatom.
The plant is being financed by Russia with a state loan of up to $10 billion for 25 years, and Moscow is footing 90 percent of the contract. The plant is not the first of its kind proposed in Belarus: during the 1980s, there were plans to build a nuclear power plant in Rudensk, 50 kilometers south of Minsk, but following the Chernobyl disaster, the project was abandoned.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright