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Divided EU Declines To Act On Objections To Russian Gas Project

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (file photo)
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (file photo)

Some European Union leaders have raised objections to Russia's plan to build a new gas pipeline to Germany at a summit in Brussels, but the bloc is divided on the matter and took no action, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says.

EU diplomats said the leaders of Poland, Lithuania, Denmark, and Latvia raised their concerns about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is slated to run from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, during a discussion on security issues on October 19.

Eastern European and Baltic Sea states have expressed concern that the project would strengthen Moscow's hand by increasing European reliance on Russian natural gas, and have also objected that it would cut gas-transit revenues for Ukraine, damaging Kyiv's fragile economy.

Nordic states, meanwhile, have raised security concerns over the pipeline being laid near their shores under the Baltic, where Russia has bolstered its military presence.

But Germany and several other Northern European countries have sought an alternative to the current pipeline running through Ukraine, where disputes with Russia have led at times to the threat of gas cutoffs, and have defended the commercial gains their energy firms stand to see from the project.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, in particular has embraced the prospect of taking delivery of 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Russia, and has said Brussels should not get involved with the project.

Juncker said on October 19 the European Commission aligned itself with members who raised objections to the deal and asked for a mandate from EU leaders to negotiate with Russia over the project.

But he told reporters in Brussels that leaders turned down his request in light of the split among members.

"There is no unanimity among member states to give the commission a mandate to discuss the matter with Russia," he said. "I don't think that we will have unanimity on this" anytime soon, he added.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told reporters at the summit that "the political dimension of this project is obvious, but there are countries which say this is a purely commercial project."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told fellow leaders she understood they had political concerns, but she asked them not to muddy the legal waters, two diplomats told Reuters.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, whose country like Germany has companies invested in the pipeline, said opposition to the gas pipeline should not be founded on a critical stance toward the Kremlin, a senior EU diplomat told Reuters.

Five European companies -- German energy groups Uniper and Wintershall, Austria's OMV, Anglo-Dutch group Shell, and France's Engie -- are invested in the 1,225-kilometer pipeline project.

The EU's debate on the controversial project came as Russian President Vladimir Putin complained about recently enacted U.S. sanctions that call for penalties on European companies that participate in the Nord Stream 2 and other Russian energy projects in Europe.

Putin asserted the U.S. Congress included the punitive measures in a sanctions bill against Russia with the goal of promoting a budding market for U.S. liquified gas in the Europe.

"The recent sanctions package adopted by the U.S. Congress was openly designed to push Russia out of European energy markets and to force Europe to switch to more expensive liquefied natural gas from the United States," he said at a policy forum in Sochi.

With reporting by Reuters
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