SPIEGEL Interview with Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas Leader Says Planned Russian-German Pipeline 'Extremely Dangerous'
Lithuania's prime minister discusses a deal between Moscow and Berlin to build a gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea, thereby bypassing his country. He's not happy about the project and he's accused German and Russian officials of negotiating behind his back.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Brazauskas: "Our numerous attempts to enter into discussion with the West, or Gazprom, were ignored."
Since Russia and Germany agreed to construct the, until now, most expensive gas pipeline in Europe through the Baltic Sea, there has been growing resentment in Poland and the Baltic States. You are the first politician to oppose it, out of environmental concerns. What danger do you see?
Brazauskas: The line is slated to go through an area where a good deal of Germany's chemical weapons were sunk after WWII. That is extremely dangerous.
SPIEGEL: The places where Hitler's legacy lies are well known.
Brazauskas: Much has yet to be determined. We know from Moscow that one of these areas is 120 kilometer off of our coast - that's where the Russians deposited more than 30,000 tons of poisonous gas containers. They simply threw them overboard.
SPIEGEL: You fear an environmental disaster?
Brazauskas: The Baltic Sea is practically a closed-off basin and it is already highly polluted. In addition, Russia has begun drilling for oil 24 kilometers off of our coast and pumps 500,000 tons annually onto land. I've been joined by my other colleagues on the Baltic Council in asking the European Union to consider this point as it formulates future policies concerning Russia. There is a declaration of the Council of Baltic Sea States, concerning the protection of the Baltic Sea. In addition, we demand that Russia accept the appropriate bilateral conditions.
SPIEGEL: Moscow newspapers see this as the "beginning of a war" against the German-Russian gas cooperation. By mentioning the environment you've been able to find a "clever method" to torpedo the project.
Brazauskas: I don't want to over-exaggerate our role. But there are enough concerns among the Latvians and Estonians, and the Polish as well.
SPIEGEL: In reality, it's far less about the environment than it is about politics. Why is there so much fuss about a gas pipeline?
Brazauskas: Because no one thought to ask us even once as they were preparing the project.
Graphic: The pipeline's route
Brazauskas: That's what we realized. I visited the chancellor in the autumn of 2003. I spoke with (German energy company) E.On about our precarious situation as well as with Ruhrgas -- which holds 38.9 percent of the shares in our national gas company. Every effort was fruitless.
SPIEGEL: Why are you so concerned about the situation?
Brazauskas: We are very young members of the European Union, but we find ourselves geographically isolated. We have between Russian Kaliningrad and Belarus just under 100 kilometers of shared border with Poland. That is our only bridge to Europe. The Baltic States live almost outside the community, on an island, but they nevertheless protect 1,400 kilometers of the EU's outer borders. Energy-wise we are dependent on Russia: Lithuania gets oil, gas and nuclear fuel for our reactors. The opposition is forcing us to look for alternatives.
SPIEGEL: There was a plan for an overland pipeline between Russia and Western Europe.
Brazauskas: The first option from Gazprom was a line through Latvia, Lithuania, the Kaliningrad province and Poland. We would have been included in such a plan. Such a pipeline would have also been able to deliver energy from the West, for example, with gas from the North Sea. In case something happens in the east, we would have been taken care of.
SPIEGEL: You mean, if Moscow had turned off the gas for political reasons?
Brazauskas: It could be political or technical reasons. Until now we've received Russian gas through Belarus. While Minsk was feuding with Moscow some time ago, the gas was simply turned off. We had massive problems, for example in the glass industry, which can't just stop production.
SPIEGEL: That means you would like to have someone else at the end of the pipeline that Moscow can't veer around as easily, like Germany. But Moscow is picking the expensive way through the Baltic Sea in order to be independent as well -- from the constantly bickering and at times unreliable Baltic sates, the Belarussians and the Poles.
SPIEGEL: Is that why you've been said to have called it the "Gas variation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact"?
Brazauskas: Conservative parties and parts of our population have spoken of a fear of Russian occupation since our independence. That, of course, bothers Moscow.
SPIEGEL: Lithuania's earlier president Vytautas Landsbergis even believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is intentionally seeking to bring Germany into such deals in an effort to split Europe.
Brazauskas: That's his personal opinion.
SPIEGEL: That the smaller countries in the East suffer under the mighty axis of Paris-Berlin-Moscow is not far off the mark though?
Brazauskas: By a certain measure that's the case. Russia is Russia. It is permanently strengthened alone through the climbing oil prices: every exported ton of oil puts $250 into state coffers. Where can you find that elsewhere in Europe?
SPIEGEL: Hardly a week passes without more controversies between Moscow and the Baltic states. At the moment, the Russian press is angry because a Russian jet crashed in Lithuania and the government held the pilot for three weeks.
Brazauskas: We didn't bring the machine down. It flew over our territory and crashed. Who are they accusing? What are we supposed to be guilty of?
SPIEGEL: Fourteen years after the end of communism, not even the borders between Russia and the Baltics are secure...
Brazauskas: I have no explanation as to why the border agreement between Russia and Estonia recently collapsed. Lithuania agreed to an accord in 1997 with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin. It wasn't ratified for five years, but now all that's missing is a bit of border demarcation. Still, we're not able to move forward on that point. It is inexplicable. Everything is always clear on the very top political level. But below that is where the problems begin.
SPIEGEL: The Russian papers claim Vilnius is using every possibility to complain because it believes that there is still imperial thinking in Moscow. It is also hindering the clear transit to Kaliningrad for historically motivated reasons.
Brazauskas: That is stupidity. The entire withdrawal of Russian troops from Germany went at the time through the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda -- without any problems. On the other hand, we're now required to control the up to 800,000 Russian passengers who cross Lithuanian territory.
SPIEGEL: You're accused of overdoing it.
Brazauskas: We're doing it in a very meticulous manner, according to the rules of the Schengen Agreement, which we will become a part of in 2007. Moscow doesn't like that because they think that one should be able to move freely between Russia and Russia. But we are now members of NATO and the EU and that is our territory and we need to control it fairly and equally, as one would between two normal countries. The fact that we're 260 times smaller than Russia shouldn't play a role.
INTERVIEW: CHRISTIAN NEEF