Swedish government can’t stop Russian rental of ports: Foreign Minister

The Swedish government will not stop the lease of ports to Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2, but does have clear objections, it says. And that could be enough to convince regional heads to reject the proposal.

Swedish government can't stop Russian rental of ports: Foreign Minister
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (right) and Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist (second from right) at a media conference on Tuesday. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Majority Russian-owned Nord Stream is attempting to rent a port in Slite, Gotland and a harbour in Karlshamn, Blekinge to aid the construction of its new gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist met representatives from Gotland and Blekinge municipalities on Tuesday. After the meeting, Wallström said the government was tied by rules of regional autonomy, but had expressed its disapproval of allowing the leases to go ahead.

“The government can’t control decisions that fall within municipal self-government. The municipalities decide on renting ports. The government sees the use of the ports as affecting Swedish defence policy interests negatively, though our overall assessment is that the project is difficult to stop,” she told Swedish news agency TT.

Defence minister Hultqvist warned about the consequences of renting the ports, pointing out that Sweden has extensive military activities in the areas of both Karlshamn and Slite.

At a media conference following the meeting on Tuesday, Gotland regional assembly chairperson Björn Jansson said the Swedish government’s clear indication on how defence policy could be negatively impacted means it is now less likely the ports will be rented out.

“Based on that it has become difficult to say yes,” he told news agency TT.

The total amount of money at stake for the regions is thought to be between 25 and 60 million kronor ($2.7-6.5 million).

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that the central government was willing to discuss compensation for the municipalities, but reiterated that it could not stop them from accepting the contracts.

“We are prepared to have a discussion with them about financial compensation,” he told TT.

“The government has expressed what the agencies have assessed, and now it’s the municipalities who need to discuss that and make a decision. Stopping this is not an easy process,” he added.

Foreign Minister Wallström noted that the Swedish government intends to review whether the country’s constitutional law needs to be amended to give the government greater ability to safeguard national interests in similar situations in the future.

The defence policy spokesperson for the centre-right opposition Moderates insisted that the government has shown a lack of leadership on the issue however.

“I think it has been handled worryingly badly. This could have been done several months ago. I think the government is dragging its feet,” Hans Wallmark said.

Last week Russia's ambassador to Stockholm insisted that the country has “no plans whatsoever to invade Sweden” in response to concerns over the prospective port hires.