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Opposition to Russia's Nord Stream Pipeline Growing In Eastern Europe

The logo of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project

Several Eastern European states have ramped up their opposition to a new gas pipeline linking Russia with Germany and have raised their concerns in Washington.

Some of the most vocal critics are Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, whose foreign and defense ministers met with their U.S. counterparts in Washington in the past week.

The Nord Stream 2 project will bring Russian gas directly to Western Europe, but critics say it will increase dependence on Russia and enrich its state-owned energy firms at a time when Moscow stands accused of endangering European security.

An $11 billion, 1,225-kilometer pipeline linking Russia with Germany across the Baltic Sea bed, Nord Stream 2 is on schedule for completion next year.

It is a private project backed by energy giants such as Shell and the Russian state-owned natural gas giant Gazprom, among others. But it also has the strong backing of Berlin and Moscow.

“We support the implementation of this project, which is undoubtedly absolutely free from politics. This is a purely economic and moreover purely commercial project,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Many Eastern European states say Europe should not be engaged in big business with Putin.

"Security these days is increasingly indivisible. There's no clear division between internal and external security and also geographically," said Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser.

The United States also opposes Nord Stream 2. It included sanctions against Russian energy companies in its package of sanctions imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, but those measures do not as yet apply to the Nord Stream 2 project.

Eastern European countries also have economic concerns about the pipeline.

“There could be bottlenecks through Central Europe and Eastern Europe, and those places could see prices rise and they might be more exposed to a Russian political gas cutoff. Ukraine would lose about $2 billion a year in transit fees,” said Noah Gordon of the Center for European Reform.

The European Commission also opposes Nord Stream 2 but says there are no legal grounds to block it. The EU hopes to mitigate the risk by investing in connecting pipelines across European borders.

“The goal is a resilient gas market where gas flows freely across borders, " said Gordon.

"For two years, Ukraine hasn’t bought any gas from Russia. Instead they buy gas, Russian gas usually, indirectly from European traders like Germany, like the Dutch. So if the European gas market was in a strong enough state and if Europe was more energy efficient and used less gas, Russian or otherwise, Russia wouldn’t be able to meddle or use gas as a weapon ever again,” he said.

Poland and Lithuania, both vehemently opposed to Nord Stream 2, have built terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Poland took delivery of the first U.S. shipment of LNG to Europe last year, and U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants to boost LNG exports to Europe.

The countries opposing Nord Stream 2 say that diversifying their supply through imports from the United States should blunt Russia’s ability to use gas as a political weapon.