On Wednesday, February 24, 2021, the Atlantic Council hosted a virtual roundtable to assess key energy security issues in northeast Europe. The event launched the new Atlantic Council Global Energy Center Northeast Europe Energy Security Initiative, implemented in cooperation with the Lithuanian government. Dalia Kreivienė, director of the Department of Economic Security Policy and of external economic relations within the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, introduced Albinas Zananavičius, Lithuanian vice minister of energy, who delivered keynote remarks. Following that, Kurt Donnelly, acting principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State, and Andrea Lockwood, deputy assistant secretary for Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Eurasia in the Office of International Affairs at the US Department of Energy, delivered their own high-level remarks. The speakers were then joined by Arūnas Molis, Klaipėda LNG project executive for Klaipėdos Nafta, Darius Maikštėnas, chair of the board and chief executive officer at the Ignitis Group, and Rolandas Zukas, chief executive officer at EPSO-G, for a lively panel discussion and audience Q&A session. The conversation was moderated by Ambassador Richard Morningstar, founding chairman of the Global Energy Center, who formerly served as the State Department’s special envoy for Eurasian energy, as well as US ambassador to the European Union (EU) and Azerbaijan.
This first roundtable focused on identifying key energy security threats in northeast Europe and the role of the transatlantic alliance in resolving these issues. The experts recognized Lithuania’s progress on energy diversification efforts in the region. Sole reliance on Russian piped gas deliveries, had once solidified the region’s status as a European “energy island.” The collapse of Gazprom’s sixty-year monopoly through the inauguration of the Klaipėda liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal is a regional success story. The option to purchase LNG from multiple suppliers, such as the United States and Norway, enabled Lithuania to negotiate a market-driven price for Russian piped gas. Lithuania established itself as a key regional energy interconnection point, which has bolstered its trading relations with key NATO allies. Additionally, Klaipėda complements ongoing efforts to link Baltic gas networks to the rest of Europe via interconnectors with Poland, Sweden, and Finland. These projects, financed by Brussels and supported by Washington, ended the Baltic States’ energy isolation and granted consumers access to competitive market prices. The project was lauded as a watershed in cementing the region’s energy integration with Western Europe.
Nevertheless, the experts agreed that certain security challenges remain. Grid diversification is the new frontier for energy sovereignty in the Baltic States, as the region currently relies on the lingering connection to the old Soviet energy grid, which has sustained Russian influence in the region. The speakers discussed the complexity and urgency of the region’s forthcoming synchronization with the EU electricity grid.
In addition to grid diversification challenges, the panelists cited the recently commissioned Ostrovets nuclear power plant in Belarusas the most urgent threat to Lithuania’s energy independence. The new Belorussian plant is located near the Lithuanian border and has raised safety concerns in in the Baltic country. The speakers echoed concerns voiced by Members of European Parliament in February 2021 about the continued lack of both transparency and official communication regarding the frequent emergency reactor shutdowns and equipment failures on the other side of the border. The participants also discussed how Russia could use the nuclear plant as geopolitical leverage. Roundtable participants noted that Lithuania’s ultimate objective is to decommission the plant, but that in the meantime, they seek to prevent the plant’s second reactor from coming online by boycotting Belarusian energy exports. They admitted this will eventually require severance from the Belarusian grid and synchronization with the EU mainframe.
At the conclusion of the roundtable, the participants noted Lithuania’s progress on decarbonization, as it leads the EU with a high share of renewables in its national energy mix, in 2018, renewable energy made up 25 percent of final energy consumption. Participants also discussed how grid diversification and synchronization with the EU market could enable greater renewables integration. Envisaging investments in wind, solar, and hydrogen, they discussed the impact that increased domestic generation could have on the security of supply in the region.
Future roundtables and public events will focus on tangible transatlantic mechanisms for addressing regional energy security threats and on raising awareness around urgent issues, such as the Ostrovets nuclear power plant.