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  Confrontational rhetoric and turned-off pipes

Darius Varanavičius, political scientist, executive editor of the magazine "The State"
2007 02 28

Representatives of the Russian company „Transneft“, who used to talk about the necessity of the long-term repairs of the oil pipeline Druzhba, have currently informed that they have put away the idea of repairs and decided to focus on the construction of a new oil pipeline, bypassing the territory of Belarus.

In view of the above, two conclusions can be made. The first is that Mažeikiai Nafta, managed by PKN Orlen, is left without the Russian oil supply pipeline for good, and, therefore, the industrial potential of the undertaking will not be further fully utilized. The second conclusion: suspicions on political changes in Belarus might become a reality, especially after Minsk has again expressed its intentions to increase transit taxes to oil pumped to the Western Europe, and Russia informed on its plans to construct a new oil pipeline.

However, the turn-off of the Druzhba tap should not be evaluated only within the context of bilateral Russian and Lithuanian and Russian-Byelorussian relations or, more importantly, as a step of Transneft business. The closure of Druzhba today, is not an accidental decision. This has been partially reflected in V.Putin‘s speech in Munich. It would be too courageous to consider this speech as the announcement of a new cold war, however, it is obvious, that contours of the increasing division between the West and Russia have become obvious in Munich. Besides, a uni-lateral criticism of the United States was accompanied by further arguments of the Kremlin, that the position expressed in the above speech is approved by many people in the world.

Lithuania has to understand that its membership in the EU and NATO determines that the country is in the centre of the turning-point of a political and value system. Besides, all the recent speculations on the future of Belarus and its leader acquire a clear meaning: the Kremlin simply tries to efficiently evaluate its frontal positions by trying not to release other post-soviet republics from its sphere of influence. It might turn out that the recently increased activity in the above sphere – conflicts on gas prices, oil transit, explosions of gas pipelines, support of separatist forces etc. – has been a preparation for a crucial steps, which have already been taken in Munich.  

For new owners of Mažeikiai Nafta and the Lithuanian authorities, the closure of Druzhba might cause a real headache and will surely not facilitate the current situation in the plant after the fire. The import of more expensive oil might influence both macro-economic indicators of the country and ordinary consumers which will inevitably be affected by the increased prices.

In pursuance of political destabilization, one of the most effective are economic levers, however, we should not think that Russia is seeking to provoke revolutions in its impact zones. However, sustention of a certain level of tension in these zones would be quite likely, especially when recalling the rhetoric of V.Putin in Munich.

It is necessary to note also, that the Russian actions, starting from the turn-off of taps, the increase of energy resource prices and finishing with the global political visions, are more intense than the response of the West towards these acts or adequate countermoves. Here large-scale declarations of the EU on solidarity of the energy policy, which will probably be justified by actual actions only in the future, might serve as a good example.

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