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JAUNIUNAI, (Lithuania): Poland and the Baltic states Thursday inaugurated a new gas pipeline that links the north-eastern EU with the rest of the bloc, a crucial step towards reducing dependence on Russian gas.

The 508 kilometre-long (316-mile) pipeline linking Poland and Lithuania’s gas networks will eventually be able to transport around two billion cubic meters of gas per year in either direction.

Thanks to existing links in the region, Latvia, Estonia and even Finland will also have access to the wider European gas pipeline network.

The European Union’s executive unveiled Wednesday plans for a gradual ban on Russian oil imports as part of a raft of new sanctions to punish Moscow for invading Ukraine.

If approved by member states, the oil ban would be the EU’s toughest move yet against the Russian energy sector, which helps the Kremlin finance its war.

Last week Russia’s Gazprom halted deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria as it seeks to sow divisions between European nations that have imposed sanctions.

A cut off of Russian supplies threatens to cause shortages not only in those countries but potentially across Europe.

The growing number of interconnections between gas networks, however, means European nations are better able to prevent Russia putting pressure on one country.

“Today, we are inaugurating our energy independence,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told a ceremony outside the capital Vilnius.

“This interconnector is a response to blackmail” from Russia, said his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda.

Poland has said it is ready to completely swear off Russian gas if necessary and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia announced at the end of last month they were halting imports of Russian gas and would use their reserves.

All the nations are heavily dependent upon Russian gas imports.

The EU funded a large part of the 500-million-euro ($530 million) cost of the construction of the GIPL pipeline.

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