The initial shock of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has waned, and so has the world's unwavering focus on the plight of its citizens. But, the country is still under attack, and the ceasefire talks have yielded little respite from the shelling and mass murders.
Much has been written about the Russian fuel exports that swelled President Putin's war chest. Various quarters have called for sanctioning Moscow's energy sector. But, most European leaders have shied away from cutting ties with the continent's largest natural gas supplier. With a forty percent share of Europe's natural gas trade, Russia exports close to 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas each year.
President Putin had demanded that "unfriendly" countries pay for Russian oil and gas in roubles. Though the G7 nations refused to comply, it highlighted Russia's dominant position in the world's energy sector.
For instance, as of 2019, Moscow's Gazprom supplied 63% of Lithuania's oil imports. But, cutting ties with Russian energy is not impossible, as the EU member has demonstrated. Early this month, Vilnius buoyantly announced that the country would no longer be importing Russian gas for its domestic needs.
This remarkable milestone in the Baltic state's quest for energy independence was not reached overnight. It required foresight, meticulous planning, and a will to seek alternatives. As the Minister of Energy, Dainius Kreivys, said, "This is the result of a multi-year coherent energy policy and timely infrastructure decisions."
In 2014, the country inaugurated the Klaipeda liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal, aptly named Independence, in the Curonian Lagoon's southern port. Three large shipments of LNG will reach the terminal each month. Vilnius has been gradually shifting to LNG. Last year, 62% of the country's gas supplies came from Klaipeda's LNG terminal.
As the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda tweeted, "Years ago, my country made decisions that today allow us with no pain to break energy ties with the aggressor. If we can do it, the rest of Europe can do it too!"
One could argue that Lithuania, with a population of 2.8 million, needs comparatively less energy than countries like Germany, France, and America. While this is true and completely cutting off Russian energy imports may not be feasible for many, Vilnius has shown that strategic planning could lead to alternate solutions.
For now, Lithuania's neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, depend heavily on Russian energy imports, and Klaipeda's LNG terminal cannot serve the entire Baltic region. But its success has prompted Estonia to propose building a similar facility jointly with Latvia and Finland in its port of Paldiski.
As the world's energy needs grow exponentially and price fluctuations impact domestic budgets, the need for energy independence or a comfortable degree of self-sufficiency has become a hot topic that could drive policy changes and swing elections.
While nothing can be achieved overnight, and it may not be feasible to punish President Putin by putting a full stop to all energy trade immediately, Lithuania has shown that it is possible, with proper planning, to turn off the pipelines.
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