- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

BRUSSELS, Sept 17, 2008 (AFP) - The European Commission on Wednesday promised to help Lithuania reduce its dependence on Russian energy supplies while not allowing it to keep its Soviet-era nuclear plant.

EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told visiting Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas that Brussels would help Vilnius develop renewable energy sources and help make energy savings, notably with the help of millions of euros available to make buildings more energy efficient.

A month after the conflict between Georgia and Russia he stressed the desire to reduce the country’s dependence on Russian energy supplies, thanks to gas and electricity “interconnections” between Lithuania and its European neighbors Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Sweden.

“I am ready to develop a Balkans interconnection plan with all EU member states surrounding the Baltic Sea and give it high priority,” he told a joint press conference with the Lithuanian leader.

Russia has regularly been accused of using its control of a hefty slice of Europe’s energy market for political ends, allegedly turning off the taps to punish governments in Moscow’s communist-era stamping ground that are too critical of the Kremlin.

Lithuania, which broke free from the crumbling Soviet bloc in 1991 and joined the EU in 2004, has been sparring with Russia since August 2006, when the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft cut supplies to the country’s only refinery.

Mr. Kirkilas said the Baltic nation would try to speed up the interconnection process ahead of a European Union summit on October 15-16.

He also renewed his plea to delay the EU-agreed closure of Lithuania’s Soviet-era nuclear plant, which provides the bulk of the country’s power.

Ignalina, built in 1983, is the same kind of nuclear plant as Chernobyl, which caused the world’s worst nuclear accident in 1986, contaminating parts of Ukraine where it was located, as well as Belarus and Russia, then all part of the Soviet Union, and western Europe.

Mr. Barroso stressed that the agreement to close the reactor should be honored, and indeed that he had no option to do otherwise.

“We must never compromise on safety,” he said.

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