KLAIPEDA, Lithuania — The vast ship that eased into this misty seaport early Monday was hailed by U.S. and European officials as the strongest signal that the stranglehold Russia has on the Baltics and their energy needs can be broken.
The vessel, the Independence, is a floating factory for converting liquefied natural gas into the burnable variety. It represents a direct challenge to the Russian way of doing business as many European Union nations have dithered over how to deal with President Vladimir Putin and his attempts to reassert Russian influence over parts of the former Soviet empire like Ukraine.
“We are now an energy-secure state,” said Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian president. “Nobody else from now on will be able to dictate to us the price of gas, or to buy our political will, or to bribe our politicians.”
“If we don’t like it, we can drop it fully and totally,” Grybauskaite said, referring to a possible severing of relations with Gazprom, the government-controlled Russian gas exporter, which supplies Lithuania’s gas.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
Lithuania’s efforts to break free of Gazprom are a significant example of how even countries bound by geography and history to Russia’s energy behemoth can find alternatives.
The Independence was built in South Korea for the Norwegian company Hoegh, which is leasing it to Klaipedos Nafta, the state-controlled oil terminal operator, under an arrangement that gives the Lithuanians the right to buy it after a decade.
Lithuania is spending 448 million euros, or $568 million, for construction, maintenance and a 10-year lease on the floating terminal.
The vessel, which is three soccer fields in length and formally known as a floating gas storage and regasification unit, could not have been more timely for Lithuanians. The country of about 3 million people was the first former Soviet republic to reclaim its political independence. This year, Lithuania received approval to join the eurozone next Jan. 1.
In the past, Lithuania paid more than its Baltic neighbors for Russian gas. Gazprom had an ownership stake in Lithuania’s natural-gas distribution network until this summer, and part of Lithuania’s electrical infrastructure is still controlled from Moscow.
Before the arrival of the vessel, Lithuanian commentators warned of the potential for Russian sabotage, and parts of the port were locked down Monday for its arrival.
Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian foreign minister, suggested on his Twitter account on Oct. 19 that reports of a lost submarine in Swedish waters represented a “weird coincidence” when the liquefied-natural-gas vessel was crossing the Baltic Sea.
Lithuanians continue to complain that the West has underestimated the dangers posed by Russia, which has an enclave in Kaliningrad, on the border with Lithuania, where Russia keeps a naval base.
The first shipment of liquefied natural gas, set to arrive Tuesday from the Norwegian company Statoil, is equivalent to 60 million cubic meters of natural gas. Further shipments from Statoil should reach the equivalent of 540 million cubic meters annually in the next five years. That is a fifth of Lithuania’s needs.
Lithuania says the terminal, the only operation of its kind in the region, could become a beachhead to supply most of the needs of the other two Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, which also rely on Russia for gas.