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Academic report condemns pipeline construction in Estonian waters

The Estonian government should not allow a consortium behind a controversial gas pipeline to construct it in Estonian waters, according to a new academic report cited by Estonian media on Wednesday.

Possible Russian military presence and potential harm to the environment should force the government to deny a request from the Nord Stream consortium to conduct an environmental study in Estonian waters, daily Postimees said quoting the report by the country’s Academy of Sciences. “Neutral states like Finland and Sweden can allow the presence of the Russian armed forces and (Russian natural gas company) Gazprom armed operatives in their economic zones or territorial waters, but as NATO members Estonia and Poland cannot allow that,” the report said.

In April, Nord Stream asked Estonian authorities to measure the depth of the Baltic Sea in Estonian waters to determine if it was possible to shift the pipeline south of the Finnish coast. The authorities turned to scientists for an opinion. The Russian military may use submarines to protect the pipeline because of how deep under water it would be constructed, the report suggests. Furthermore, last month, the Russian government allowed Gazprom, a stakeholder in the project, to employ its own armed operatives instead of contracting an outside security firm.

Gazprom has stressed its 2005 agreement with German firms E.ON and BASF to lay a 1,200-kilometer gas pipeline, known as Nord Stream, direct from Russia to Germany, saying it would boost Europe’s energy security. The Estonian government will decide whether to allow the study once it returns from the summer break at the end of the month, spokeswoman for the Estonian environment ministry Anari Lilleoja told Deutsche Presse Agentur, dpa.

The pipeline has been the subject of bitter dispute in the Baltic region ever since in was first proposed in 2005. Many of the states bordering the Baltic have argued that it could disturb stores of chemical weapons dumped in the sea after World War Two. So far more than 20,000 people, mostly from the Baltic states, have signed a petition to stop the construction of the pipeline. The Estonian environment ministry suggests that weapons dumps have been located in Estonian waters, but the maps pinpointing them are very old and intensive research would have to be carried out to avoid the risk of an environmental disaster.

If completed, the pipeline would create separate routes for Russia to supply gas to Eastern and Western Europe. As a result, the EU’s Eastern European member states have complained that it would allow Russia to cut off their gas supplies - as it did to Ukraine in January 2006 - without affecting supplies to its richer Western clients. The Ukrainian gas crisis heightened fears that Moscow would be willing to use its energy resources to exert political pressure in any disputes with its former satellites. And in recent months Russia has harshly criticized Estonia’s relocation of a Red Army monument from the centre of Tallinn to a less prominent location - leaving many Estonian politicians skeptical of Russia's goodwill. (monstersandcritics.com)