Talk of Russian-German pipeline still emotional

  • 2005-11-30
  • By TBT staff
RIGA - The subject of the Russian-German gas pipeline, which is to be laid on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, arose on several occasions last week, highlighting the extent of latent emotion that still revolves around the $5 billion project recently signed by Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile, a Russian diplomat sought to deflect project criticism by passing the onus of "missed opportunity" onto Latvian politicians.

On Nov. 26, the Baltic Assembly passed a resolution protesting the "disregard" of the Baltic states in putting together the project. The assembly, which consists of parliamentarians from the three states, said that all threats posed by World War II chemical weapons left on the bottom of the Baltic Sea must be eliminated before any pipe is laid.

The decision to pass such a resolution was made at Lithuania's initiative at the presidium meeting in Reykjavik in late October.

The Baltic states and Poland wanted the gas pipeline to trail across their territory as a guarantor that Russia would not impose an energy blockade against them at some time in the future. Local reaction to the deal was vociferous, with many politicians and pundits labeling it the Putin-Schroeder pact, in reference to the 1939 agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that carved up Eastern Europe and the Baltics.

But in an interview with the Russian language Telegraf paper in Latvia, Russian Ambassador Viktor Kalyuzhny blamed Latvian politicians for missing the boat on the pipeline project.

In his words, "When I came here [to Latvia 's ed.], I told Latvian politicians that there is an opportunity to take part in this project, but in order to do that they would need to forget the ideological arguments and sit down to negotiate."

He continued, "I told this to then Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, as well as the president of Latvia. But political principals turned out to be more important than economic ones for Latvian politicians. So, the gas pipeline would have gone through Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and everyone would be happy."

The statement stunned the Latvian media, and Emsis, suddenly on the defensive, said he had no recollection of such a conversation with Kalyuzhny.

Finally, an Estlink official said that the planned Russian-German pipeline could cause difficulties for the Estonian-Finnish power cable project.

Indrek Aarna, a board member of Nordic Energy Link, a company participating in the 110-million euro project, told the Baltic News Service that the cable would be laid in the sea by the end of next year, before work on the gas pipeline might start.

"So the Estlink underwater cable will remain underneath the planned gas pipeline, which may complicate repairs in the event of possible accidents in the future because the gas pipeline may prevent raising the cable to the surface," Aarna said.

Eesti Energia spokesperson Helen Sabrak added that, in such cases of intersecting infrastructure objects, the parties usually conclude an agreement on exactly how repairs are to be carried out should a malfunction occur. Since the gas pipeline will be completed later, it's the duty of the pipeline's owners to work out a technical arrangement permitting the cable to be raised to the surface, the spokesperson said.

The planned Estlink cable route would also intersect with existing communication cables of lesser importance.

Nordic Energy Link and the builder of the underwater cable, ABB, have carried out in-depth studies of the sea floor and have mapped out with great precision the cable's path between various existing cables and obstacles, such as elevations of the sea floor and carcasses of sunken ships, Aarna said.