I applaud Governor Tom Wolf’s trip to Lithuania and Poland this week. He is the first serving governor to travel to the region and it is a great opportunity to strengthen the state’s military, economic, and business ties with these important NATO allies. He is visiting the nearly 600 Pennsylvania National Guard troops serving in the region. The National Guard is commemorating the 26th anniversary of its partnership with the Lithuanian Armed Forces this year. Thousands of Pennsylvanians have deployed to, or trained with, the Lithuanian Armed Forces since 1993 making it one of the most successful state partnerships in the nation. This partnership has strengthened NATO’s strategic position in Northern Europe, while also strengthening state-level ties with a region that has deep connections to Pennsylvania. An estimated 80,000 Commonwealth citizens trace their ancestry to Lithuania.
The 20th century, however, has not been kind to the Baltic peoples of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, where, at the hands of the Moscow-led Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or USSR) the population suffered horribly. Anyone perceived as a threat to the regime was executed, imprisoned, or deported to Siberia.
The Baltic people, led by Lithuania, rose up in 1991 and secured their freedom from the oppressive Soviets and since then they have enjoyed unparalleled prosperity and peace. However, the change in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategic approach to neighboring countries, including all three Baltic nations, is an existential threat to this peace and stability. The change in the Russian attitude was first demonstrated by its debilitating cyber-attack against Estonia in 2007 as punishment for moving a Soviet era monument. This was followed by a war against Georgia in 2008 and then its war against Ukraine which has been on-going since 2014. The details of this complex strategic turn is documented in a study I led on behalf of the United States Army called “Project 1721,” which is available for free download from the Strategic Studies Institute in Carlisle.
One of Lithuania’s key vulnerabilities in the face of a more hostile Moscow was economic blackmail due to its heavy reliance on Russian oil and gas. To counter this threat, Lithuania built a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal called “Independence” as a way to reduce its dependence on Russian energy. Poland built a similar LNG terminal for the same strategic purpose.
Due to cost and accessibility, most of the LNG imported thus far has been from Norway. However imports from the United States began in 2017. Lithuanian leaders hope to expand the amount of LNG they purchase from Pennsylvania in the future. Besides increasing their national security, it would serve as a thank you for our dedication to their security and our 26 years of armed forces partnership.
I hope that Governor Wolf will see from his travels in Lithuania that Pennsylvanian natural gas resources are a strategic multiplier that can benefit both our state’s economy and help the Baltic nations achieve greater energy security. Rather than increasing taxes and fees on natural gas to increase revenue to the state, we should be increasing sales and expanding the market: there are eager buyers and consumers in Lithuania! Besides stimulating the state economy, which will increase the revenue coming into Harrisburg in a more sustainable way, exporting our energy resources will foster good will and strengthen our partnership with a valuable ally and contribute to peace and stability in Northern Europe.