Swedish island rejects renting pipe storage space to Russia

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 9:36 AM

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden's strategic Baltic Sea island of Gotland has turned down a Russian request to rent harbor space after the government warned it could harm the Scandinavian country's defense and political interests.

In an 11-0 vote, Gotland's technical board declined Thursday to allow Russia's energy giant Gazprom to store pipes in the Slite harbor for an undersea natural gas pipeline that will run from Russia to Germany called Nord Stream 2.

"It was with mixed emotions, because we had been working on this deal in which we believe would lift the community," Tommy Gardell, head of the island's technical board, told The Associated Press. He said the deal involved $1.6 million a year in rent.

Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist had said earlier that renting out harbor space on Gotland would "negatively affect Sweden's defense and political interests."

The southeastern port of Karlshamn on Sweden's mainland also decided Wednesday to put a similar deal with Nord Stream 2 on hold.

The European Union, which imports one-third of its natural gas from Russia, agreed last year with Gazprom on a 1,200-kilometer (744-mile) twin pipeline to run parallel to the existing Nord Stream 1, running from Russia's Baltic coast to Greifswald, Germany, across the Baltic Sea.

But regional tensions have grown in the Baltics and there have been reports of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.

In September, Sweden stationed permanent troops on Gotland, which Hultqvist described as sending a signal after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its "increasing pressure" on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

On top of that, there's been growing opposition to making Europe more dependent on Russian energy.

Switzerland-based Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek said they "will look for alternative logistic facilities around the Baltic Sea."

"We see ourselves as a European company with more than 20 different nationalities working here," he said. "We're a business company, not a spy company."

The company until recently was 100 percent owned by Gazprom.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.