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18th Jan 2020

Divisive gas pipeline launched under EU banner

  • Selected EU leaders and Medvedev turn a giant spigot in Lubmin on Tuesday (Photo: nordstream.com)

The leaders of Germany, the Netherlands and Russia, the prime minister of France and the EU's energy commissioner have celebrated the launch of a new gas pipeline that some fear could be used to divide the EU.

The big personalities and around 500 other guests attended the opening ceremony of the Nord Stream pipeline in Lubmin, near the German-Polish border on Tuesday (8 November).

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: "This is a long-awaited event which signifies the strengthening of relations between Russia and the European Union." German Chancellor Angela Merkel called it "a strategic project that is exemplary for the co-operation between the European Union and Russia."

In numbers, the Nord Stream pipeline is to pump 27.5 billion cubic metres a year of Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany, rising to 55 billion when it is fully operational next year - equivalent to 10 percent of EU consumption.

It cost €7.4 billion to build, is 1,224 km long and is expected to stay in service for 50 years.

Russia's Gazprom is the main shareholder on 51 percent, alongside Dutch, French and German firms. The gas itself will be sold mainly in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

Despite the European Commission, Germany and Russia's depiction of Nord Stream as an "EU project" the pipeline arouses deep mistrust in the Baltic states and in Poland.

Lithuanian and Polish diplomats say if Russia in future decides to cut off gas to former Communist countries in eastern Europe for political reasons, Nord Stream means Germany would not suffer and the EU would be less likely to show a united front.

Vilnius in September asked the European Commission to raid Gazprom offices in the EU on suspicion of anti-competitive behaviour in the knowledge the window is closing for similar action in future. "Right now, they cannot cut gas to Lithuania to punish us for this decision without also cutting off [the Russian exclave of] Kaliningrad. But once Kaliningrad is connected to Nord Stream, this will no longer be the case," a Lithuanian source said.

The pipeline has even more severe implications for the independence of Belarus and Ukraine, whose economies rely heavily on transit fees from pre-Nord-Stream pipelines.

No leaders from the former Communist and Soviet EU countries went to the Lubmin event. But two other VIP guests - Nord Stream consortium managing director Matthias Warnig and the chairman of its shareholders' club Gerhard Schroeder - played a prominent role in the ceremony.

The two men embody the antipathy felt toward the project in eastern European capitals.

Schroeder is a personal friend of Russia's authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin and joined the Gazprom payroll a few days after using his previous position as German chancellor to sign off the Nord Stream deal. Warnig was, according to declassified files, a medal-winning lieutenant in the reviled East German secret police, the Stasi, in the 1970s and 1980s.

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