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Russian pipeline creates uncertainty on Swedish island

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Russian pipeline creates uncertainty on Swedish island
File photo: Dmitry Lovetsky/TT
15:18 CET+01:00
A Russian gas company's proposal for a new pipeline is raising questions of national security and local economy on Gotland.
The Baltic Sea island is divided in discussions on whether to allow Russian gas firm Nord Stream to lease a section of Slite harbour, allowing the company to build a new gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. 
 
Centre Party politicians on the island have now joined critics in encouraging the government to block the plan. But the Red-Green majority remains hopeful for the agreement, which would see a much-needed boost to municipal coffers.
 
A translation was released on Friday of the proposal that the Russian gas consortium hopes the Gotland regional government will agree to, reports Dagens Nyheter.
 
The total amount of money at stake is thought to be between 25 and 60 million Swedish kronor ($2.7-6.5 million), says the report.
 
The final budget depends upon whether the Nord Stream 2 project, which comprises the building of two new pipelines in the Baltic Sea between Russia and Germany, will be permitted to use the Apotekskajen harbour in Slite - now also known locally as the 'Putin Harbour' due to Nord Stream's connections with the Russian president.
 
Sweden's four conservative parties - the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre Party and Liberal Party - all appear to have reservations about the plan in the light of Russia's annexation of Crimea, militarisation in the Baltic region and actions in Syria, reports Dagens Nyheter.
 
The Centre Party on Gotland has now underlined its opposition to the pipeline.
 
Representatives from Region Gotland as well as Karlhamn Municipality in Blekinge, which is also seeking to lease a harbour to the pipeline, are scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist on Tuesday.
 
"The government must put its foot down and acknowledge that this harbour is of strategic importance and should therefore not be used in this way. Local påoliticians can not make such decisions about security," Eva Nypelius of the Centre Party and member of the Gotland regional assembly told Dagens Nyheter.
 
But the red-green majority on Gotland continues to support the use of the harbour by Russian ships in connection with the building of the pipeline.
 
"This is a commercial company that wants to hire our port. We have no other view of it. It has worked out fine in the past and we are prepared to do it [work with a Russian company, ed.] again this time," said regional assembly spokesperson Björn Jansson of the Social Democrats to Dagens Nyheter.
 
The harbour was previously used by the company when similar pipes were laid under the Baltic in 2011 and 2012.
 
Jansson said that he saw the leasing of the dock as an invaluable way to raise funds for a Gotland Municipality struggling to meet the demands of increasing costs of health and social services. 
 
The local politician claimed that criticism of the plan was driven by the wish of the Moderate and Liberal parties to see Sweden join Nato, and that he had not noticed any opposition amongst the island's residents.
 
But Riina Noodapera, Estonia's Swedish-born honorary consul for Gotland, told the newspaper that she believes the pipeline not to be in Swedish national interests.
 
"It is important that Slite does not become a springboard for Russia on to Gotland," said Noodapera.
 
"Pipes can also be used to carry other things," she continued.
 
The draft agreement from Nord Stream is set to be discussed be the regional committee in Region Gotland on the 15th of December - two days after the meeting with the government ministers.
 
A final decision is scheduled to be made on February 27th.
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