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Grigory Pasko: Déja-vu in Brussels – Part 2

[see Part 1 of this series here] Déja-vu in Brussels – Part 2 Grigory Pasko, journalist By the way… On 11 February 2008, the press secretary of Gazprom management board chairman Alexey Miller, Sergey Kupriyanov, said on the air on the radio station «Echo Moskvy» that there can not be any ecological problems with the Nord Stream gas pipeline, that each centimeter of the future route has been researched. But the procedure for obtaining permission under the EIA continues, and Nord Stream has done a great deal of work.

We will note that this was said against the background of the latest scandal with Ukraine. As soon as the prime-minister of Ukraine demanded the removal of intermediaries in deliveries of gas, Russia immediately countered with reproaches about overdue debts on payments for gas already delivered.And we will particularly note that all this took place against the background of the impending visit of the president of Ukraine to Russia. In other words, the unmistakeable odor of politics was being added to the familiar sulphuric smell of natural gas.Back to BrusselsBut let us return to Brussels. Taking the floor, European MP from Estonia Andres Tarand noted that the Russian company Gazprom is an instrument of policy in the hands of Russia. And that we should not forget this fact.During the debate that began during the hearings, speakers talked about the crisis of confidence among the parties participating in discussion of the project; about the huge scale of the future construction; about alternative variants; about Russian compliance with the requirements of the Espoo Convention (Russia has signed so many international agreements and subsequently not complied with them that its signing of yet another convention doesn’t really count for much); about how the company «Nord Stream» is not conducting any kind of intensive dialogue with the parties; about the need to create a supervisory council to monitor construction and operation of the Nord Stream pipeline; about how to minimize the political component of the project…evroPar021908The Nord Stream hearings in Brussels didn’t even pause for a coffee break (Photo by Grigory Pasko)Addressing the hearing with answers to the questions that had been raised, Nord Stream technical director Dirk von Ameln in essence did not answer these questions. He literally said that: 1) construction has not yet begun; 2) the route of the pipeline has already been changed in consideration of the demands of various parties; e) Nord Stream is a guarantee of the delivery of gas not only to Germany, but to all of Europe.Speaking right after von Ameln, the two petitioners, Krzysztof Maczkowski (Poland) and Radvilė Morkūnaitė (Lithuania), noted that: 1) they still had not gotten answers to their questions; 2) it was not clear who had authorized the Danish firm to conduct an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the entire project, and on what grounds this authorization had been given; 3) the company Nord Stream has no specifics, just “sheer PR”.The presentation by a young Swedish scholar, Robert Larsson, was interesting. In part, he noted that Russian commercial-political interests are the main driving force behind the Nord Stream project. “Russia”, said Larsson, “has strong ambitions of again becoming a great power and uses all available means in its endeavours. … Russia has been moving away from democracy and rule of law. The pipeline will inevitably have an influence on those countries to which the gas will come. And this will have a negative impact on European unity. Besides, Russia will begin to experience a shortage of gas. The customer will be forced to pay for the risks. There is also the risk of militarization of the Baltic Sea. resident Putin has said unequivocally that the forces of the Baltic Fleet will be used for the protection of the pipeline.” Something Larsson did not mention is that «Gazprom» has already declared its desire to have its own small armed forces.A researcher from the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Alan Riley, devoted his presentation to a discussion of the pipeline’s budget. He brought attention to the fact that during the duration of a short period of time, the cost of the project has already doubled at a minimum. At the same time, it was not clear what this was due to. Just one strand of the pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic is going to cost 6.5 bln euros. If one speaks of the presence of munitions along the route, then they need to be either removed or bypassed. In both the one and the other case, the cost of the project will increase.Moving on. If there is – supposedly – gas for the first stage of the functioning of the pipeline, then for now the founders aren’t saying anything concretely about filling the second stage. The first gas from the Shtokman field will start to flow no earlier than 2020. In such a manner, it turns out for now that 12 bln. euros are going to have to be paid for the flow of half of the whole planned flow of gas – that is, for 27 bln cumic meters. Isn’t that just a wee bit expensive? And won’t a land-based variant of the pipeline be cheaper?In answers to the retorts and presentations, von Ameln and Warnig noted that not only Europe will depend on Russia for deliveries of gas, but Russia too is dependent on the buyer of its gas – on Europe. In addition to this, the company Nord Stream has a concrete business plan, but it is not being published for now. And in general: the company Nord Stream is all for open dialogue between all interested parties.

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Matthias Warnig of Nord Stream answers petitioners’ questions without answering anything (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

Summing up, as it were, the results of the discussion of the petitions filed, the chairman of the commission on energy of the European Parliament, Andris Piebalgs, noted, in part, that representatives of the company Nord Stream had tried to answer all the questions. It was another matter entirely that he personally had not liked these answers. Diversification of routes for the delivery of gas, liquidity of the market – all this is important. You can love Russia or not, but this is a free country. I believe, said Piebalgs, that Russia will carry out the conditions of contracts. I consider that the project for the gas pipeline will increase the energy security of Europe. Under the condition that all ecological aspects are complied with.By the way, to one of the main questions that sounded in the hall named after Petra Kelly, the representatives of Nord Stream never did give an answer: who will bear the responsibility in the event of an accident on the pipeline?…Later, when I was doing video interviews with members of the European Parliament, I wasn’t able to shake the sense of déja-vu. I had the impression that such hearings take place merely for the sake of formality. And that the real decisions are adopted in completely different places and by different people. If this is so, that questions about the non-transparency of the pipeline and, if you will, questions of all-European security remain open.