As Russia’s Gazprom faces antitrust action, the Baltics bully back

April 22, 2015

Until now, Russia’s control of the gas pipeline that warms much of Europe has given Moscow, at minimum, an implied choke point to lord over Ukraine and its neighbors. That situation escalated this week, when the European Union used antitrust laws to charge the state-controlled Gazprom with price gouging, a move that inspired Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite to declare, “The era of Kremlin-backed political and economic blackmail draws to a close.” But if the Baltic States have their way, a bid for power independence could flip the script and leave a strategic Russian enclave out in the cold.

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As this Reuters graphic shows, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to wean themselves off of the Russian power grid over the next decade, a change that would electrically strand Kaliningrad, an 86-square-mile shard of Russia that sits on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. Kaliningrad has the population of Raleigh, North Carolina, but as port to Russia’s Baltic Fleet it enjoys outsized strategic importance: Russian military drills and build-up in Kaliningrad have driven Lithuania to propose a $160 million hike to its military budget. Jingoism does a brisk business.

To successfully pull this off, the Baltic States will need to gently dim the lights on Kaliningrad while keeping diplomacy with Moscow warm on the back burner. Seems tricky.

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