Gazprom chief Alexey Miller, who came to Lithuania for a quick meeting with Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius, must be wondering now if he knocked on the right door. Miller negotiated with Butkevičius, but it has emerged afterwards, that none of what they might have agreed on means anything, because the deciding factor will be what President Dalia Grybauskaitė says.
And the president has spoken unequivocally: there is nothing to negotiate about with Gazprom, because the Russian giant, having been shamelessly robbing Lithuania for years, simply must start selling gas to us much cheaper than before. And she won't hear anything about new long-term contracts, alterations to splitting up of gas transmission infrastructure in Lithuania, gas transit to Kaliningrad, LNG terminal project in Klaipėda or, for that matter, the 5-billion-litas claim against Gazprom with the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal.
Poor Butkevičius, who tried talking to Gazprom in good faith, poor wretched Butkevičius. He wanted things to be better, but they turned out as usual – he got a rap on the knuckles. And he got it bad. Grybauskaitė, in unison with Butkevičius' predecessor Andrius Kubilius, publicly intimated that the social democratic leader might be going to betray Lithuania's interests.
Such tactical manoeuvres – while the prime minister is trying to talk with the Russian company, the president publicly suggests treason – look schizophrenic to say the least.
As long as it was only Kubilius speaking about betrayal of Lithuania's interests – under his premiership, these interests were allegedly defended tooth and nail, yet gas prices kept rocketing – Butkevičius could well have ignored him. But the president joining in is something entirely different.
Grybauskaitė has publicly stated that she was not informed about what Butkevičius spoke to Miller and what they might have agreed on. Moreover, the president has even claimed she received a secret note from where she learned about what was truly discussed.
Thus slapped on the face, Butkevičius did not turn the other cheek and instead retorted that he himself had informed the president about the meeting and that the unsigned note was not accurate. What was it then, a lie? The president has been silent on that so far, but rest assured, she will not turn the other cheek either.
As if to forestall speculation, Butkevičius has revealed what most interests the Russians. In exchange for cheaper gas, Gazprom would like Lithuania to withdraw its claim from the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal. To be honest, this is hardly news – Lithuania, after all, has little else to to bring to the negotiation table.
Construction of the LNG terminal in Klaipėda is too far advanced to be stopped, the EU Third Energy Package cannot be stalled either, one cannot shut down the gas pipeline to Kaliningrad, and not a chance of signing a new long-term gas supply contract – that's what the LNG terminal is for, isn't it? So the only card Lithuania can play is the Stockholm Arbitration claim, worth about 5 billion litas. But President Grybauskaitė knocked even this trump card out of Butkevičius' hands, because she is convinced that Lithuania will win the case and therefore “there are no concessions that Lithuania could or should grant to Gazprom.”
Then why should Butkevičius negotiate with Miller at all? What can he offer in exchange for cheaper gas? A punch on the nose, pardon the expression? That would be brave. But if tiny Lithuania unsettled the entire Soviet Union, why couldn't it challenge one of the most powerful companies, Gazprom? It could – after all, we are paying the highest price for gas in the world and, what do you know, we live and thrive.
It could, if Lithuanian leaders were to concentrate on negotiating with Gazprom and not with one another. Perhaps there are things we don't know, but while we don't, such tactical manoeuvres – while the prime minister is trying to talk with the Russian company, the president publicly suggests treason – look schizophrenic to say the least. Perhaps we should refrain from any negotiations, lest gas price might go up even more?