VILNIUS CONFERENCE -- Polish brinkmanship risks wrecking this week's prestigious energy conference in Vilnius.
Participattion in the construction of both the proposed new Ignalina nuclear power plant and an 'energy bridge' to transport the plant's power from Lithuania to Poland are being used as bargaining tools by the Poles to increase the amount of electricity they will be entitled to, according to Polands largest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.
On Oct. 6, Gazeta Wyborcza outlined what it called an "atomic scandal in Vilnius" based on statements made by Polish economy minister Piotr Wozniak while on a visit to the Lithuanian capital. Wozniak is reported to have said Poland would adopt a go-slow attitude to contruction unless it received at least a third of the emergy produced by the new nuclear plant.
"If we do not receive 1,200 megawatts capacity, all projects will be delayed. The minimum capacity that would 'painfully' satisfy Poland would be 1,000 megawatts, and the normal capacity is 1,200 megawatts," Wozniak told a Vilnius news conference, Oct. 5.
"If we wanted to be passive investors and sell the electricity, we would agree to any amount offered. However, we want to use the electricity for Poland," said Wozniak.
The daily said that Wozniak's words drew strong responses from Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas.
Gazeta Wyborcza said that Latvia and Estonia were originally against Poland's participation in the construction of the power plant.
"It was Lithuania that persuaded Latvia and Estonia to include the Poles in the project," said the daily.
Wozniak's ultimatum is believed to have caused the cancellation of other planned meetings with the top-ranking Lithuanian officials.
President Adamkus, told journalists that he had discussed energy projects with his Polish counterpart last week and agreed on the necessity to complete the electricity bridge project.
To replace the Soviet-build Ignalina nuclear power plant, Lithuania plans to build a new power station in partnership with Latvia, Estonia and Poland. Unlike Poland, the other two Baltic states have not yet made categorical demands regarding their share of the energy produced.
In the background, Moscow is keeping a close eye on the efforts of Poland and the Baltic states to reduce their energy dependence and is doing everything it can to muddy the waters, the Lithuanian newspaper Lietuvos Rytas said Oct. 8.
Scores of state leaders, top-ranking officials and industry experts are expected to take part in the 'Responsible Energy for Responsible Partners' conference to be held in Vilnius later this week, but Russian President Vladimir Putin ignored the invitation to come and delegated ambassador Boris Tsepov.
That came as no real surprise, but a step that was no surprise, but Lithuanian politicians and diplomats are alarmed by something else.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy also rejected the invitation due to a planned visit to Russia.
Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice passed on invitation on to Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell, who will lead the U.S. delegation.
"This is a Russian victory. They feared that a top-ranking U.S. official could deliver a strong-worded statement to Kremlin in Vilnius,"a high-ranking official of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry told the daily.
"Accidentally or notâ€¦ Putin planned a visit to Iran this month. Now some of the leaders of big western states are hurrying to see in him in Moscow to find out what he will tell the Iranian president," said Lithuanian presidential adviser Valteris Baliukonis.
"We have to regret such Russian behavior," said Prime Minister Kirkilas. "I am glad that the Vilnius conference is of a rather high level. Leaders of big companies have confirmed their participation," he said.
Nevertheless, with the Russians luring some of the big hitters away from the conference and the Poles playing hard to get, the event is quickly becoming a crucial point in Lithuanian, and Baltic, political history. If the centrepiece of the whole conference 's a session at which the Baltic states and Poland finally sign on the dotted line 's fails to happen, it will be a huge embarassment. It may delay the project further, or even wreck it altogether.
Estonia is already gravitating toward partnership with Finland in other nuclear projects and looks less and less enthusiastic about the haphazard nature of negotiations surrounding Ignalina.
Latvia has a better relationship with Russia than either of its neighbors and may feel that developing alternatives to Russian gas is less pressing.
All of which leaves the Vilnius Energy Conference hanging in the balance. By the end of the week we should know if it was the event of the year or the disappointment of the decade.