UNITED BY SPIRIT AND BLOOD: Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Latvian President Valdis Zatlers during his state visit in Lithuania.
VILNIUS - On Feb. 10, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers with wife Lilita Zatlere arrived in Lithuania on a state visit. The last state visit of a Latvian president to Vilnius was held in 2001. Regardless, the Latvian president is a frequent guest in Lithuania: during the past three-and-a-half years, Zatlers has been to Lithuania seven times on official visits, and a few times on private visits. Energy issues were discussed during this state visit. Although the richest Lithuanian industrialist, Bronislovas Lubys announced that he, together with partners, possibly from the Gulf state of Qatar, would like to build Lithuania’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal with private money, and though on Feb. 11, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip spoke in favor of construction of one LNG terminal for all three Baltic countries to be built with EU co-financing, it appears one possible scenario after Zatlers’ visit would be: one high-capacity LNG terminal for the three Baltic States in Latvia built with EU co-financing and one LNG terminal in Lithuania built by the Lithuanian-state owned Klaipedos Nafta. The latter should be built without the time-consuming EU co-financing to avoid any delays.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Zatlers held a joint press conference after their talks. Usually Zatlers gives his public speeches in the Lithuanian language during his visits to Lithuania, while he and Grybauskaite communicate among themselves in English, but during the joint press conference both presidents spoke in their native languages.
“This is the closest country to Latvia both because we have joint origins and very close Baltic languages,” Zatlers said in his opening remarks, adding that “Lithuania is Latvia’s leading partner in terms of imports and exports – the main export destination and the main source of imports.”
“We have talked about major projects, energy issues and energy policies in our region - our region could be the Baltic States, the Baltic States plus the Nordic countries, or the entire European Union,” Zatlers said. Lithuania’s main fear about the LNG terminal construction in Riga was due to the fact that Russia’s Gazprom-related companies wanted to take part in that project. Zatlers reassured the Lithuanians that there will be no Gazprom influence on that project. He said that “the project which Latvia is considering at this time is entrusted to the Latvenergo power company,” which is “wholly owned by the Latvian state in accordance with constitutional law.”
Grybauskaite expressed her doubts whether one gas terminal along the entire Baltic shoreline will be sufficient. “Lithuania has not yet rejected the idea of a lower-capacity terminal on its shore, and for the time being, that is still our plan. It does not, however, mean that we would object to a larger center in Latvia – all the more so given that a major gas storage facility is located there. That will help Estonia and Lithuania, and the future gas market will have guarantees for being a stable market. The two projects do not contradict one another, and the Latvian president has confirmed once again that this project will involve a state-owned company, not a private one. The Lithuanian company which will build our terminal will also be in the hands of the state. That will ensure security guarantees for both countries in terms of making sure that these terminals are not taken over by the supplier, with respect to which we are trying to find alternatives,” she said.
On the same day, Lithuanian Energy Minister Arvydas Sekmokas stated that Lubys has a right to build his own LNG terminal with his own money on Lithuania’s shore, but the Lithuanian state will build its own LNG terminal, although some minor participation of some private capital is a possibility in the state project.
Zatlers also stated that he supports the construction of a new nuclear plant in Lithuania, although some Latvian MPs say that if Latvia will not reorient itself from the nuclear project in Lithuania to the nuclear plant which is now under construction in Russia’s Kaliningrad, they will not vote for Zatlers’ in the coming presidential election in the Latvian parliament in May.
“Latvia has always been a trustworthy partner for Lithuania, and it was nearly five years ago that we signed the agreement in Trakai [the agreement between the Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian and Polish governments]. Latvia has never stepped back from that deal, we are not doing so today, and we will never do so in the future. We are consistent in our support and in the choice that we made five years ago. We trust Lithuania when it comes to the implementation of this project. It will depend on Lithuania’s decisiveness, ambitions and abilities to implement the project,” Zatlers said. However, the main problem in implementing the Trakai agreement is in finding a strategic investor, who could get 51 percent of shares in Lithuania’s new nuclear plant - Lithuanian talks with a possible South Korean investor, the Korea Electric Power Corporation, are rather uncertain now.
“Lithuania’s energy strategy says that Lithuania should be a country with mixed energy resources, including a nuclear power plant. There is no doubt that we can implement such a project. We must seek out the optimal investor, and we need to engage in the relevant calculations. The main thing that Lithuania wishes to achieve is, first of all, to create a competitive electricity market by joining the Nord Pool system. Latvia must start to take part in it this year, as well. We must buy half of our electricity on the market and at competitive prices, and Lithuania will move in that direction so as to ensure a geopolitical alternative,” Grybauskaite said, adding “It is a goal which relates to our independence – not just energy-related independence, but also political independence.”
During the joint press conference, Zatlers emphasized the unity of the Baltic States. “Everyone in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is completely sure that if any threat would appear for any of our countries, we would demonstrate our very strict unity before the entire world, and we would do so in one one-hundredth of a second,” he said.
Later, while giving toasts during the state dinner, both presidents exchanged nice words about the brotherhood of both countries. Grybauskaite said a phrase in Latvian stating “Mus vieno kopejs gars un vienas asinis” (“we are united by both spirit and blood”). The phrase was inscribed in the commemorative plaque presented by Latvian students in 1932 to the students of Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas.
As usual during his visits to Lithuania, Zatlers showed his good sense of humor. “Madam President, the roots of your family are found in the village of Latveliai [it means “Little Latvians” in Lithuanian] in Birzai County [north Lithuania]. That allows us to consider you to be a true compatriot, and it is very fortunate that we have such a compatriot right alongside us,” Zatlers said to Grybauskaite in his toast, where the basketball theme was mentioned as well. “I am delighted that the Latvian national team will take part in the 2011 European championship in Lithuania, and the fact that our two teams are not in the same preliminary group allows me to express the hope that they will encounter one another in the finals,” Zatlers said.