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Grigory Pasko: Nord Stream, Scandinavian Style, Part 2

Grigory Pasko: Looking a gift horse in the mouth Nord Stream, Scandinavian Style – Part 2 Grigory Pasko, journalist Returning for a moment to my previous article about the view of the Nord Stream pipeline from the shores of Finland, I will point out several more circumstances. The Finnish environmental ministry based on the results of a preliminary review of the Environmental Impact Assessment report has recommended to the company Nord Stream that it examine alternative routings – moreover not only a land-based one, but an undersea one as well – to the south of the island of Hogland (Suursaari in Finnish, but known as Gogland in Russian ever since being taken over by the Soviets in the 1939-1940 Winter War). Nord Stream did not like this proposal for several reasons: south of Hogland is a nature preserve zone, the maritime traffic there is more intensive, and there are many sunken ships and underwater cables there as well. In corrected and supplemented form, Nord Stream has to present its report in Finland any day now. In May-June, discussions on this report will take place throughout the country: every inhabitant of the country will be able to express his or her attitude towards the project. The idea is that public opinion must be taken into consideration by the Finnish government in the issuance of the final decision with respect to the laying of the gas pipeline in the country’s waters.

parlament050808Sweden’s parliament building in Stockholm (photo by Grigory Pasko)The final position of Sweden has also so far not been voiced: the Environmental Impact Assessment report was sent by Sweden for further work to Nord Stream. In an apparent effort to soften Sweden’s position, Nord Stream recently abandoned plans to build a service platform to the north of Gotland, declaring that new progressive technological solutions for servicing the pipe without a platform have appeared for the company. Here it should be noted that in December 2007, Nord Stream did not yet have such a “progressive solution”: the technical director of the company, Dirk von Ameln, honestly declared about this then to Swedish journalists. That’s just what he said: a technical solution does not exist as of today.And now, one has appeared all of a sudden. Can’t help but wonder why…?I discussed this circumstance with several members of the Swedish parliament.Per Bolund, a member of the faction of the Greens, considers that many of his colleagues – and he himself – give preference to a land-based variant of the pipeline. When the corrected and supplemented variant of the Environmental Impact Assessment report once again returns to Sweden, the MPs will once again initiate debates about a land-based routing.Per Bolund assesses the abandonment of the idea of constructing a service platform as a game, as a ruse by the company Nord Stream.bolund011508.JPGSwedish MP Per Bolund (photo by Grigory Pasko)The MP representing Gotland, Rolf Nilsson considered thus in relation to the abandonment by the company Nord Stream of the service platform:

I think they want to create the impression that they’re sensitive to outside opinion – that’s why they announced they don’t need the platform. I think they didn’t need the platform from the beginning, but they tried: If we can get it, we can get it, that’s good; but if we don’t get it, well, that’s a loss, but then we can [still score] some points on that.…They have given money to the museum [on Gotland] …And I know that the question has been [discussed] at the Board at the University, and they have accepted it, but there’s a large minority against it. And the contract with the harbor in Slite is written. But they continue to say that the money to the museum and the university has nothing to do with the pipeline, or with the harbor – it’s just because they like Gotland…

Don’t you think that it will be declared about the necessity of the platform by the company later, when the decision has already been adopted on the construction of the pipeline?

Six or seven months ago, Nord Stream – I think it was [Dirk] von Ameln – said that they didn’t need a platform. But then came a quick response from «Gazprom» …directly that yes, we do need a platform. So there was some difference [of position] between Nord Stream and «Gazprom». At the beginning, when they were talking about the platform, they said it had to be so-and-so big and there had to be permanent people on it 24 hours a day. Then it became smaller and smaller, and didn’t need to be occupied permanently. [Even later, they were saying that] if the people of Gotland want to watch birds, they could borrow the key and come to the platform and watch birds!Personally I think it’s possible [that Nord Stream may announce that a platform is necessary after all once the pipeline is nearly built], but then it would put Sweden in a very difficult position, of course – will you let so much money go to waste? It would be a kind of blackmail.

rolf050808Swedish MP Rolf Nilsson from Gotland (photo by Grigory Pasko)I think that Sweden is in a not-simple position even now. You don’t want to quarrel with Russia, Germany, and Holland on the one hand, or with the Baltic countries on the other. But neither does Sweden have weighty grounds for prohibiting the project. Sweden’s position can only delay the project.

Personally, I’m afraid that you’re right. I know that in the Baltic countries, they are doing what they can. And Poland also. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are working together and hope that Sweden will act in the European Union. …I think it’s a big mistake that we officially only talk about the environment …and we forget the security aspect and the military. …Because if you listen and you read, for example, what the former defense minister of Russia, Sergey Ivanov, said in 2006, that with the pipeline, Russia will increase its influence westwards – militarily, politically, and economically. And in 2003, Putin said that with the pipeline, the Russian fleet in the Baltic will have a major new task. I think that speaks for itself.

But Alexander Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the «Gazprom» management board, tried to disavow all these statements. He’s even invited the Swedish military to come to a discotheque on the platform! At this point, the conversation was joined by Pol Jonson, defense policy adviser to Nilsson’s parliamentary party faction, the New Moderates, who provides research and support on military matters to various parliamentary committees:

Pol Jonson: The Swedish armed forces presented their analysis of the pipeline in January 2007. What I think might be a bit of cause for concern is if the naval presence substantially increases because of the pipeline. We want to have the Baltic Sea as a low-tension region. We understand, of course, that there is an interest from Russia – or from «Gazprom» – to protect the pipeline, but I don’t quite see the necessity of protecting the pipeline by an increased naval presence. …That basically is the major concern. …I think it would be unfortunate for a region that actually has had very good development over the last ten years. We don’t want to reverse that trend in any way.

What about all those old munitions and chemical weapons and other nasty things lying on the sea bed?

We had a very extensive exchange with the Baltic countries in the early and mid 1990s for mine clearance, disposing of old mines and chemical weapons and so forth, so it’s been a very active approach here of trying to remove a possible hazard for fisheries and for sea communications and so forth.

jonson050808New Moderate party parliamentary defense policy adviser Pol Jonson (photo by Grigory Pasko)

Rolf Nilsson: The Swedish coast guard have done a lot of work to locate where they are, how the environment looks on the bottom. And you know, southeast of Gotland you have a very large area with a lot of ammunition and gas and so on. But we’re very afraid of what will happen. Some years ago – I think it was six or seven years ago – a newspaper from Estonia had a map of the Baltic, and they had marked where this area was. So then I contacted the Swedish coast guard and talked to them – and they weren’t aware that it was so large. So then they contacted the Estonians, and I think they have been studying that area. But it’s a really huge area! From the experts I’ve heard, they say the best thing to do today is just to let it be, because we don’t have the tools to deal with it, so just let it lie where it is – then nothing can happen. But if you go down and do work there – then things could happen.

About the alternate routing… Just how serious is this demand by Sweden?

The question for the Swedish government is very serious: they want to have it. But I don’t think it’s in Nord Stream’s interest to have it on land, so how that report will look, I don’t know. The pipeline [is being put] in the Baltic not just for economic reasons. I think that there are three reasons why they want it in the Baltic – it’s political, it’s military, and it is economic. I think that’s the three legs it stands on. So they will not have any interest at all in putting it on land. …I think the main purpose of it is so they can shut off the gas to the Baltic and to Ukraine and to the Czechs and to Slovakia and so on. And if it’s on land, they can’t do that.

Certain specialists assert that economically, the project is disadvantageous for Russia itself, while completing the second phase of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline is 6 times less expensive. Does this mean that of three “legs” you mention, the political component of the undersea pipeline is the dominant one?

I had thought there was also an economic reason, but if it’s not so, that’s even worse. And it’s rather hard to discuss this in Sweden today: If I say what you just said, then I will be accused of being afraid of Russians. And I am accused of being afraid of Russians …because I bring up these other aspects of the pipeline – the political and the military. …But when my opponents come with that argument, I believe I have won, because that means they have nothing else to say.