Planned Baltic Sea gas pipeline poses a political challenge to Estonia
The planned Baltic Sea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is a difficult issue for Estonia.
After Finland suggested in the spring that the route be moved further south, away from the Finnish economic zone, the Gazprom-led Nord Stream gaspipe consortium applied for a permit to assess a 169-kilometre stretch of the seabed along the Estonian economic zone.
The Estonian government intends to make a decision on the permit today - Thursday. A reply to Nord Stream is due by the end of September.
The controversial pipeline, planned to run from Vyborg in Russia under the sea to Greifswald in Germany, has been criticised by the Estonian governmental parties as well as by research institutes. The project has given rise to a heated debate on the ecological impacts of the venture as well as on the political and security issues arising from it.
The opponents of the project argue that the planned submarine pipeline is part of Russia’s goal to restore its status as the most powerful state in the Baltic Sea region. They say that it would be possible to attach probes to the pipeline to collect information, which could be used for spying, with the further implication that Russian naval forces could be used to "protect" the pipeline.
Furthermore, a submarine gas pipeline would be more expensive and more hazardous to the environment than an overland pipe would be, opponents claim. Moreover, if an evaluation permit is granted, it is difficult to turn down the subsequent building permit, they say.
Those who have taken a positive stand with regard to the planned routing are appealing to the fact that Estonia would be unable to move the route of the pipeline on land, away from the Baltic Sea. Furthermore, many EU member states are looking forward to receiving natural gas from Russia. If Estonia were to refuse to cooperate already in the evaluation phase, it would give an impression of the country as a difficult and tiresome little state - just the impression that Russia is hoping for, those in favour of the project claim.
Some political experts wish to remind the opponents also of the fact that last spring Germany supported Estonia during the siege of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow. One can never quite know when support will be needed again.
Urmas Paet, the Foreign Minister of Estonia, has proposed that an evaluation permit could be granted under the provision that it does not mean that an actual building permit would automatically be granted.
Andres Kasekamp, the director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, has also advised the government to grant the authorisation. Moreover, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves snapped earlier this week that the goals relating to foreign policy should not be sacrificed for the sake of domestic policy. This statement was interpreted as being broadly in favour of the evaluation permit.
The most prominent opponents of both the evaluation permit and the gas pipeline itself are Mart Laar, the leader of the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, as well as Professor Endel Lippmaa from the Estonian Academy of Sciences.
In an interview with Vikerraadio, the most popular radio station in Estonia, the Estonian academic commented earlier this week that Finland wanted to move the gas pipeline away from the Finnish waters for security reasons, even though the neighbour [Finland]is not willing to say it aloud.
"However, the Estonian offshore area is much more complex with its more than 100-metre-deep ancient submarine valleys derived from the Ice Age", noted Lippmaa to Vikerraadio.
If the Estonian government forbids Nord Stream from conducting investigations inside its economic zone, the project will be taken back to the Finnish zone. On Wednesday, Nord Stream notified the Uusimaa Regional Environment Centre that the company will postpone its answer to the assessment of the environmental effects until the end of the current year.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Sweden and Lithuania do not accept planned routing of gas pipeline (20.2.2007)
Environmental impact of Baltic Sea pipeline greatest in building phase (15.11.2006)
Nord Stream (Wikipedia)