Nord Stream på Svenska (notes from Stockholm) By Grigory Pasko, journalist The Russian tsar Peter the Great, as he hewed out his “Window on Europe” through the putrid marshes of St. Petersburg, was thinking: “from here we shall threaten the Swede”. They were a threat once upon a time. We live in different times today – the times of globalism. Having agreed with Germany to build a gas pipeline along the bed of the Baltic Sea and having taken on for company – just in case – the Dutch corporation Gasunie, Russia thought that that would be the end of that, no more problems. Ah, but no! Sweden has yet to have its say about the project. A small country in contemplation. Just recently, it was visited by the executive director of Nord-Stream, Dirk von Ameln, who attempted to convince everybody that the pipeline is safe and very necessary not only for Russia and Germany, but for all of Europe – which means for Sweden too. In the fervency of his argumentation, he even blurted out that the actual pipes had already been ordered and were being fabricated. Implying that the project simply has to go ahead after all this.
The Swedes did not understand such an argument. Furthermore, three political parties – the Left, the Social Democrats, and the Greens, have spoken out openly and unambiguously against the pipeline.Even the Swedish military has weighed in on the subject. And, perhaps for the first time in the history of the world green movement, the opinion of the military actually coincided with that of the greens: the military are also against the pipeline. True, for other reasons: because of the threat to Sweden’s security on the part of Russia. They’re saying the Russians might build an intelligence-gathering center on a floating platform and spy on the Swedes.Let me say the following: platform or no platform, the Russians are still going to spy on the Swedes. Such are the rules of the game. Since the times of Peter the Great and the continual series of wars between our countries, they seem not to have changed in this area of international relations.There is yet another argument against the pipeline: the over 300 thousand tons of chemical and toxic substances that were sunk after the Second World War in the Baltic Sea. Some say that these munitions are a serious threat to the ecology of the entire region in the event of the construction of the pipeline. Others – for example, representatives of Nord Stream – assert that the pipeline will lay far from the places of burial.As concerns the argument of the submerged chemical weapons, I personally feel that the whole matter is not at all as simple and obvious as may seem at first.No fewer than two burial sites are known: one is 70 miles to the southwest of the Latvian coastal city of Liepāja (56º 30′ N, 18º 54′ E), while the other is to the east of the island of Christiansø (not far from Bornholm, 55º 20′ N, 15º 37′ E).How did the initiators of Nord Stream respond to the reproaches of the ecologists? They conducted several expeditions under the aegis of the Baltic (that is, military naval) Fleet in the Baltic Sea, said that they did not uncover submerged munitions along the route, and… end of problem.Last year, at public hearings in Vyborg, a representative of the organization «PiterGaz» reported that research conducted in the Baltic gives grounds to assume that there is no chemical weaponry along the route of the pipeline. And for a no, as we say, you won’t even be judged.It is known that the Nord-Stream project is under the patronage not simply of «Gazprom», but of president Putin personally. Putin in the year 2006 directly declared: “This is the largest project, very important for the economy of the country, and indeed for all of Western Europe”. True, he then and there gave a fright to these same western countries by promising the participation of the Russian military-marine fleet [navy] in “the resolution of ecological, economic, and technical tasks”.Here I must say that the Swedes after such a declaration were simply obligated to experience concerns: if the Russian navy is undertaking the resolution of ecological and economic tasks, it’s time to cry “Help!” I, for example, know from my own experience just how the military can, and knows how to, be concerned about the environment! Instead, for example, of recovering the nuclear wastes from its nuclear submarines, they secretly dumped these wastes in the Sea of Japan.A clamor needs to be raised about the chemical weaponry in connection with the laying o the pipeline at the very least because an expert environmental study of the projects needs to be conducted, and without underwater research this can’t be done. Besides, even without this, the Baltic Sea is in need of environmental care.In Stockholm I met with employees of Greenpeace. The coordinator for marine programs of this organization, Staffan Danielsson, considers that ecologists have to come out in a consolidated manner against the construction of the pipeline.Now, after the visit to Sweden of Nord Stream executive director Dirk von Ameln, the Swedish government has begun to prepare conclusions about the project’s environmental impact assessment (AIE). After publication of this conclusion, the greens will adopt a decision about how to react further to the actions of Nord Stream and the Swedish government.What we do know for know is that the Greenpeace organizations of Sweden, Germany, Poland, and Russia have come out with a declaration in which is said: further industrialization of the Baltic Sea is not needed.In the opinion of Staffan Danielsson, those European countries that are experiencing an insufficiency of gas can get it through traditional, land-based pipelines. And even that only temporarily: just until such a time as all civilized countries switch over to providing for their energy needs through renewable sources.Greenpeace staff member Staffan Danielsson (photo by Grigory Pasko)We also discussed several delicate topics for Sweden. For example, the municipality of Slite, on the island of Gotland, has received financial “aid” from Nord Stream in an amount of 70 mln Swedish kronor [approximately $11 mln or €7.4 mln] for deepening its harbor. On top of that – 5 mln kronor for the needs of the local university and 3 mln – for the needs of the local museum. Many have regarded this as a blatant bribe by Nord Stream to the municipality, the opinion of which could influence the construction of a gas storage facility necessary for the needs of the future pipeline.Everybody knows about «Gazprom’s» lack of transparency. But we also know about the aggressiveness with which this gas monopolist conducts its foreign commercial policy. Is seems that «Gazprom’s» partners too have already learned this aggressiveness. Here it would be to recall the story with the fishermen as well. At first, they say, they were against the pipeline. But then Nord Stream gracious reported to them that they would be able to trawl for fish next to the pipeline as well. And the fishermen suddenly loved the pipeline. And they loved it even more than Nord Stream promised them to create a special contingency fund in case the fishermen’s catches suddenly dropped in consequence of the operation of the pipeline.I also met with a Swedish MP from the Green Party, Per Bolund. He expressed the opinion shared by all greens: they are against the construction of a pipeline in the Baltic. First, this will have a negative impact on the ecology of the region. Second, Sweden has long had a negative attitude towards the development of fossil-fuel energy. Third, there is a threat of falling into political and economic dependence on Russia in the event of the laying of the pipeline in Sweden’s exclusive economic zone.Swedish Green Party MP Per Bolund (photo by Grigory Pasko)It is noteworthy that certain representatives of the ruling Moderate (conservative) party have also spoken out against the pipeline. MP Mats Johansson of the committee on foreign affairs of the Swedish parliament reported to me that the government does not as yet have a unified position concerning the Nord Stream project, but that there are already many questions. In addition to this, the parliament has already conducted debates on the pipeline. Within the framework of discussion of the EIA, they will continue.Another representative of the conservative party, Björn Hamilton, of the committee on industry and trade, honestly admitted that for now he does not have a firm decision with respect to the pipeline project. But he did adhere to the point of view that everything needs to be in compliance with the law.After my meetings with the parliamentarians, I came to the conclusion that Sweden will not in principle be able to stand against the pipeline: international conventions will no doubt be adhered to by Nord Stream. Also clear is that Sweden will not demand the building of a branch pipeline to Sweden – this is a clear path to dependence on Russia. But another thing is clear as well: there is nothing to stop the Swedes from being principled and responsible to the very end during the review of the results of the EIA.Sweden’s parliament (photo by Grigory Pasko)We practically did not talk about the political component of Swedish-Russian relations. But one phrase by Johansson did stick in my mind. He said: “We all had hoped that Russia would go along the path of democracy. But this did not happen. The honeymoon in relations with Russia for us has ended.”Of course, Sweden continues to remain an attractive country for Russians. Recently, the director-general of cellular operator «Vimpelkom», a Mr. Izosimov, acquired in Stockholm the most expensive house – for nearly 7 million dollars. And he’s got a Swedish wife. And now a house as well. It is obvious that the Russians want to have the whole world: to have in the literal and the figurative [to screw—Trans.] sense of the word.By the way the talk in Sweden is not subsiding either about how the company Gunvor in long-ago 1997 was founded not only by friend of president Putin Sergei Timchenko, but also by a respected Swede, currently the honorary consul of Sweden in Luxembourg, Mr. Thorbjörn Thörnqvist.And I’m not even talking about minister of foreign affairs Mr. Carl Bildt, who, as is being said and written, has options for the purchase of shares in Russian oil & gas companies. Of course, why shouldn’t a former member of the board of directors of an oil company have them? I know, I know, in free countries it is not prohibited for free people to have shares. But it goes without saying that Mr. Bildt no longer has the right to speak out with respect to oil & gas projects with the participation of Russia. And the Swedes will be carefully watching this as well.What can the Swedish public do, realistically? In my opinion, not much. At best – demand of its government that it conduct additional research on these or those positions of the EIA.What can the Swedish government do? Theoretically, it can do a lot: for example, give or not give permission for the laying of the gas pipeline in its exclusive economic zone. But then again, there already are countries that have supported the pipeline. There is the opinion of the European Union. And there aren’t any straightforward legal grounds to deny in the construction of the pipeline. Therefore, I think that Sweden will in the end come out in favor of construction.What can Nord Stream do? Promise to remove and review certain details of the project. Insignificant details, as a rule, things like increasing expenditures associated with possible environmental damage. In the main thing, though – the variant of laying the pipeline along the seabed – the company remains immovable.As Mr. von Ameln hinted, the pipes have already been ordered. And pipes, as you understand, for underwater use differ from those for land use.And so it turns out that the Nord Stream locomotive is picking up speed, and nobody will be able to stop it. Certainly not little Sweden.In the meantime, «Gazprom» has taken yet another step in its expansion into European markets. A subsidiary of the Russian gas holding company, Gazprom Marketing and Trading Ltd. (GMT), has obtained a license for work on the gas market of Ireland. Most often, large European countries, in coming out against the expansion of «Gazprom», are guided more by political rather than economic consideration. However, the small countries are first and foremost interested in business and only then in politics. It is entirely possible that Sweden too will discover a very attractive economic interest in mutual relations with Russia.