June 25, 2020 / 1:49 PM / 13 days ago

Lithuania spurns Baltic presidents' meeting amid nuclear power rift

FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda attends a news conference in Riga, Latvia December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo

KURESSAARE, Saaremaa, Estonia (Reuters) - Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda refused to attend a planned meeting with his Estonian and Latvian counterparts on Thursday, saying he did so after the countries failed to agree to ban electricity purchases from a new nuclear power plant in Belarus.

Lithuania sees the nuclear power plant, built by Russia’s Atomstroyexport near its capital and financed by Moscow with a $10 billion loan, as threat to its safety and national security, something Belarus disagrees with.

“The President’s opinion is that negotiations should be finished first,” Nauseda’s spokesman told Reuters in a statement.

Lithuania has a law banning all Belarusian power sales after the power plant gets operational.

The Estonian president’s office, which hosted the meeting, said that Nauseda, who is dealing with a reshuffle of his team, “decided to stay home at the last minute due to internal affairs”.

Lithuania wants all the three countries to sign up to banning sales of Belarusian electricity after the nuclear plant comes online, binning an earlier draft agreement that only pledged to help keep the energy from being sold in Lithuania.

The presidents of Estonia and Latvia said they still backed the preliminary agreement. “We leave it to our governments to continue the discussions on exact wordings if it needs to be adjusted”, Estonia’s Kersti Kaljulaid told reporters.

Belarus expects to have the first of two 1.2 gigawatt VVER 1200 reactors online in July and supply first power in the autumn, according to state news agency Belta.

Reporting By Tarmo Virki and Andrius Sytas; Writing by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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