THE NEW UKRAINE (La nuova Ucraina)

Gazprom on Wednesday opened a new pipeline across Lithuania that will allow the Russian gas company to increase supplies to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave between Lithuania and Poland.

It will also allow Gazprom to boost natural gas supplies to Lithuania, which is braced for an energy deficit after it closes a Soviet-era nuclear plant in December.

The opening of the pipeline — dubbed Red Junction — took place amid much fanfare near the Susepe River, located on the border between Lithuania and the Kaliningrad region.

The pipeline stretches 139 kilometers (86 miles) and will have a total annual capacity of 2.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas. Valery Golubev, Gazprom's deputy CEO, said the pipeline would allow the company to double gas supplies to the Kaliningrad region.

Viktoras Valentukevicius, head of Lithuania's gas company Lietuvos Dujos, said the pipeline was essential for the Baltic state.

"Natural gas will become a key energy resource for our country for decades. This line is very important for Lithuania as a guarantee of stable energy supplies from Russia," he said.

Lietuvos Dujos is 38.9 percent owned by Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas producer.

Many Lithuanians are apprehensive about the increasing reliance on Russian gas that the new pipeline signifies. In December Lithuania will shut down its Soviet-era reactor in Ignalina, which practically overnight will transform the Baltic state of 3.4 million people from a net energy exporter to an energy importer.

Since the country has no direct link to the European electricity grid, it has no choice but to import more energy from Russia.

But Moscow's snap decisions in the past to cut off supplies to Ukraine and Belarus, make many Lithuanians fear that Russia is an unreliable energy supplier.

"Vilnius should not forget that the Kremlin is using Gazprom not only as economic, but also a very efficient political tool," said Raimundas Lopata, director of the International Relations and Political Science Institute in Vilnius.

Gazprom said it expects to make the first shipments of gas in the new pipeline in December.
(Kyiv Post)

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