On the eve of the recent visit of Vladimir Putin to Helsinki, a presentation of my film about the Nord Stream gas pipeline took place there in the parliament of Finland. The crowd wasn’t very large – maybe 30 people. However among the small audience was one of Nord Stream’s top representative in Finland, Sebastian Sass. Young, energetic, and self-assured to the point of cockiness, Sebastian had previously been an assistant to the former Prime Minister of Finland Paavo Lipponen. Lipponen, as our readers are aware, is the second head of state to leave politics and end up employed (indirectly) by the Russian government. His duties include serving as the main interlocutor between the pipeline project and the Finnish government, “in order to expedite the fastest granting of permission from the government for the construction of a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.“
I had telephoned mister Lipponen twice with a request to grant an interview and he had refused me twice. At the same time, they keep assuring me in every possible way that the company Nord Stream AG – is the most open company in the world.
But let’s get back to the presentation. Thank you, Sebastian Sass – he actually came, and didn’t make some excuse that he was too busy.
The moderator at the presentation was the leader of the FinnishGreen Party, European Parliament deputy Heidi Hautala (on 7 June she willmost likely once again be elected. At any rate, I wish her success inthis). The film was shown, followed by a Q&A discussion with Marti Poutanen (Finnish Ministry of the Environment) the Estonian politicians Tapani Veistola and Paul Lettens, and several NGO representatives.
The first to speak, of course, was Sass. He said that one point of viewpredominates in the film; that the project is good on all counts – inparticular, it is going to save Europe from that nasty coal, becausethe electric power generating stations of Germany are going to convertto the «green fuel» – gas. He also said that the company Nord Stream AGis an unprecedentedly open company, just about the most open company inthe whole history of the existence of humanity. He also said thatneither Gerhard Schroeder nor Paavo Lipponen are lobbyists for theproject.
When it was my turn to speak, I said that:
1) it is genuinely laughable for me to hear that Schroeder and Lipponen- are not lobbyists for the project. Then what were they hired for?
2)I asked Sebastian to stop calling gas a «green fuel» going forward – hemight offend environmentalists;
3) the openness of the company,unfortunately, has its limitations.
The next day, I and some friends from Swedish and Finnish televisiontook a trip to the city of Kotka. We came to the site where a plant isbeing built for the fabrication of the cement blocks needed for layingNord Stream’s pipes along the Baltic seabed. Not far from there -staging areas for storing the actual pipes.
Representatives of the French company EUPEC allowed us onto the siteonly after a phone call to Sass in my name. They categorically refusedto give us their names, however, even though they were written right ontheir helmets (I particularly liked the name T.Tonnensen). They refusedto be photographed. To all questions, even the most innocent ones(what’s your name, what will the plant be producing, how can we see asample of your output, at least on a photo, etc.), they refused torespond. But they did show us the pipe unloading wharf. They were beingoffloaded from a vessel by the name of Don-3, flying the Maltese flag.There are already hundreds of kilometers of pipe accumulated on thewharfs in the port of Kotka.
– I ask the representative of the Frenchcompany what is the length of one of these pipes?
– That’s a question for the company Nord Stream (NS).
– What is the weight of one pipe?
– Ask NS.
– What is the thickness of one pipe?
– Ask NS.
– Where are the pipes from?
– Ask NS.
– How long have you been keeping watch over these pipes?
– Ask NS.
My dear friend Sebastian! You can understand why it is difficult for journalists to agree that Nord Stream AG is the most open company in the world … perhaps compared to Gazprom there is an improvement, but projects of this scope merit a discussion with society.
In talking with these people I was reminded of the words of Garry Kasparov about how the projectmay never happen. After what I saw in Kotka, I can say: the project cannot NOT happen. Because hundreds of millions, if not billions, of euroshave already been pumped into it pitching it, at least from a politcial angle. I think that going forward, theinitiators of the project and the owners – the recipients of Russiangas can only put in yet more billions, because this will already turnout to be cheaper. The project will happen, at any cost, and it seems that for the backers, among them Vladimir Putin, no price is too high.
Otherwise, what to do with the two thousand kilometers of pipe of theGryazovets-Vyborg pipeline already buried in the ground and the two anda half thousand kilometers of pipes already prepared for the underwaterbranches?
…By the way, it was being said even before Putin’s early June visit toHelsinki that he was coming to – lobby for the project. The «not alobbyist» Lipponen would no doubt be someplace right nearby.
[The above article was written before Vladimir Putin’s visit toHelsinki, but we were unfortunately unable to post it until now. As aresult, Grigory Pasko has asked us to add the following afterword.]
At a press-conference in Helsinki, V.Putin somberly joked about howthe premier of Finland, it seemed, knows the problems with the NordStream gas pipeline better than even HE HIMSELF does. VVP got theimpression that the Finnish premier had personally touched and feltevery single mine buried under the sea along the pipeline’s route.
I think that Putin knows about Nord Stream’s problems no worse than hisFinnish colleague. It’s another matter that the Finnish colleague isnot as deeply enmeshed in all kinds of behind-the-scenes secret littlegames, which is why he blurted out a number no one had ever said aloudbefore – 31 one mines that need to be disarmed. About the mines, Putinpretended to just laugh it off. By he did say the main thing, as far ashe’s concerned: construction of the pipeline needs to be accelerated.That’s exactly why he came to Helsinki in the first place, after all.And this explains his little scare tactic in the form of informationthat transit of gas through Ukraine could stop as early as the end ofJune. As to his words about “any route” – lies. Because he really meansonly ONE route – under the sea. Overland routes are categorically notbeing looked at. I think that later VVP is going to fly to Stockholm tofast-talk the Swedes, and then – to Turkey: to get the second branch ofthe Blue Stream moving.