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Latvia favors laying Nord Stream pipeline onshore rather than seabed

Latvian authorities support plans to lay the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Europe onshore rather than across the Baltic seabed, the Latvian president said Thursday.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga told Ekho Moskvy radio that Riga is "ready to discuss with Moscow" a project for an onshore pipeline via Latvia, but added that it should be thoroughly analyzed in terms of the Baltic states' security, as "the Baltic Sea has been filled with various kinds of weapons since the two World Wars." Earlier, Baltic littoral states expressed concerns over the environmental impact of the project on the sea and called for revising the pipeline route. The German-Russian consortium building the pipeline said they would reconsider the route. In April, Russia's environmental and technological regulator said it had approved a five-year state feasibility study for more investment in the Russian energy giant Gazprom-controlled Nord Stream gas pipeline, aimed at doubling its annual capacity. The capacity of the $10.5-billion pipeline, which is to pump gas directly from Russia to Germany across the Baltic seabed, will be increased from 28 to 55 billion cubic meters with the help of a second leg of the pipeline.

The Nord Stream project includes two parallel legs measuring 750 miles each. The second leg involves a land section from the Vologda Region about 250 miles northeast of Moscow to the Portovaya Bay in the Gulf of Finland near St. Petersburg, and a sea section in Russian territorial waters. According to the feasibility study, the pipeline will start pumping gas in 2010, and will reach projected capacity by 2013. The construction of the first leg from Vologda into the Baltic waters of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and to a terminal in Greifswald, northeast Germany, began in December 2005. The leg is to come on stream in 2010. The project is designed to transport natural gas from the massive Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea in north Russia and from gas deposits in West Siberia. Germany's BASF AG and E.ON AG hold 24.5% each in the project aimed to reduce Russia's dependence on transit countries and ensure reliable supplies to Western Europe.

Vike-Freiberga also told the Moscow-based radio that she supports the signing of a new cooperation agreement between Russia and the European Union to replace the expiring one, and said she has plans to visit Moscow soon. "The world has changed, realities have changed, and a new agreement is needed," the president of Latvia, an EU member since May 2004, said. "Talks are proceeding with difficulty, but the agreement will be concluded." Talks on a new deal to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) set to expire in December were to be launched at a summit in Russia May 18, but may have to be delayed again after Poland extended its November 2006 veto Monday, citing Moscow's refusal to lift an import ban on its meat, which it calls political. (