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EU humiliated: Lithuania breaks ranks to set example by 'abandoning' Russian energy ties

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The EU has come under fire for being slower than the UK and the US to sanction Russia’s energy sector. US President Joe Biden has slapped an embargo on both Russian oil and gas, while the UK has pledged to phase out oil imports by the end of the year. But the EU, which relies on Russia to provide 40 percent of its gas, has faced pushbacks from a number of member states within the 27-nation bloc.

Now, Lithuania has taken the first step in the hope that the rest of the bloc will mimic its response.

It comes as EU leaders meet in Brussels for the second day of a summit to discuss a fifth round of sanctions amid the Ukraine war.

Lithuania has already unilaterally cut off the large bulk of its gas imports from Russia.

It is also planning to stop importing Russian oil.

Around 63 percent of Lithuania’s oil imports came from Russia in 2019.

VDL, Lithuania's President and Putin

Lithuania has led by example and pledged to slash Russia’s oil and gas (Image: Getty )

Russia's gas share in Europe

40 percent of Europe’s gas is supplied by Russia (Image: Express)

But Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda claims that figure has plummeted since it started slashing Russian crude oil purchases.

Now, the county’s only refinery is going to “abandon” Russian crude oil.

The Polish-owned facility at Mazeikiai used to get around 80 percent of its supplies from Russia.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said: “As far as I know, the company is very close to the stage when it will no longer be buying Russian oil and will no longer be using it for refining.”

And Lithuania’s state-owned gas distributor, Ignitis, has pledged to stop purchasing supplies from Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom.

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Ingrida Simonyte

Ingrida Simonyte said Lithuania is close to no longer buying Russian oil (Image: Getty )

The company purchased around a third of its gas from Russia last year.
It said it stopped buying Russian gas for its Lithuanian customers back in January.

The latest announcement comes after Putin demanded that all purchases of gas must be paid in Russian rubles.

Experts suspect this is Putin’s attempt to swerve fresh sanctions.

Timothy Ash, an emerging market sovereign strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said: “It’s a game, it’s trying to bully the West to moderate sanctions.

“He wants to force the West — if they want to continue with energy imports from Russia — to transact with Russian entities.”

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Olaf Scholz

Germany has pushed back calls for EU sanctions on Russian energy (Image: Getty )

But not every country may be as inspired as Lithuania to completely cut off from Russia’s energy.

Germany in particular, which gets 40 percent of its gas from Russia, has said it is not ready to scupper ties with Putin as it would be too damaging for the economy.

German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said on public radio DLF on March 19 that completely slashing Russian energy imports could mean a “three percent to five percent loss of GDP”, which would lead to “some people no longer earning any money at all”.

He added: “And these some people are very, very many”.

“If certain sectors, such as the chemical industry or steelworks, can no longer produce, entire supply chains will break down.

LNG tanker

Lithuania will hope to purchase LNG from alternative sources (Image: Getty )

“Not only are these sectors affected, but the entire production process breaks down in many places.”

Other countries, like Poland, have appeared more supportive of harsh energy sanctions.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Fully cutting off Russia’s trade would further force Russia to consider whether it would be better to stop this cruel war.”

France has argued that there should be no “taboos” in terms of sanctions if the situation in Ukraine gets worse.

Now, Lithuania has appeared to make the first move, striking a significant blow to Putin’s energy empire as experts have claimed the country had become the bloc’s most dependent on Russia.

The EU’s energy strategy- REPowerEU- was published earlier this month.

This details a plan to slash oil and gas imports by two thirds by the end of the year, and completely scupper ties by 2030.

Part of the plan involves importing more liquified natural gas (LNG) from alternative suppliers, like the US for example, to diversify gas sources.

Lithuania will now be relying on those LNG shipments and oil deliveries from other major producers after its huge show of force to part ways with Russia.

Bur several Lithuanian commercial customers, including a large fertiliser plant, are still thought to be purchasing Russian gas.

And its national gas network operator still gets transit fees from Gazprom for sending supplies to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave on the Baltic coast.



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