Lithuania and Belarus continue power struggle

  • 1998-11-19
  • Paul Beckman
VILNIUS – With Belarus already touting an energy bill amounting to over $60 million, courtesy of the Lithuanian power company Lietuvos Energija, Belarussians may find the amount of power they receive begin to dwindle if the country doesn't pay the tab.

On Nov. 10, local news sources reported that Lietuvos Energija officials agreed to curb the amount of energy sent to Belarus. The message was loud enough to have the issue included in a meeting between Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus a few days later.

According to a spokesman for Lietuvos Energija, Lithuania's Ignalina-produced exports account for somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of the total energy amount Belarus requires. With such a significant percent of energy resources at stake, Belarus may have to scramble to scrape up the money they owe, amid rumors that Lietuvos Energija may begin introducing dramatic reductions.

"The amount of power we are sending to Belarus now is more or less two-thirds of the amount of peak demand. Belarus often works through intermediary companies, like Baltic-Shem, in order for us to get paid in real money," said the spokesman.

The Lithuanian and Belarussian governments have been hunting for a solution to Minsk's payment problems since the beginning of fall. Earlier this month, the government's press service reported that the Lithuanian side was growing tired of waiting for Belarus to pay up.

Under Lithuanian pressure, Belarussian parliamentary leaders sent a letter to the Lithuanian government claiming they would pay and asked for energy to continue flowing. In response, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius stated that "concrete pay guarantees were needed, not promises."

Adamkus and Lukashenko met at the Lithuanian-Belarussian border post of Medininkai-Kameny Log on a snowy afternoon Nov. 12. An Adamkus spokesman said that the energy supply problem was one of a wide range of issues discussed.

"The meeting included discussions on a lot of human rights issues, but the energy subject was addressed as well. [Lukashenko said] that Belarus would take all measures necessary to abolish their debt," said the spokesman. "At the moment, I haven't any further details to add."

Lietuvos Energija's spokesman also appeared unable to relay concrete details. He did, however, mention the power company's concern and interest.

"We know the issue has been discussed, and President Lukashenko promised to cover the entire debt," the spokesman said. "However, there will probably need to be some additional protocol or something else to determine a schedule of payments and when they should be made and the amount of each payment."