Medvedev in Germany for strategic pipeline launch
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in Germany for the launch on Tuesday of the Nord Stream pipeline pumping Russian gas to Western Europe, a massive project set to deepen energy reliance on Moscow.
German President Christian Wulff welcomed Medvedev with military honours at his palace in central Berlin ahead of the ceremonial cranking open of the gas link in the northeastern town of Lubmin at midday.
"The inauguration of the pipeline is a major event and important for reinforcing ties between Russia and Germany and between Russia and Europe," Medvedev told reporters after talks with Wulff.
"It is also a step towards securing Europe's energy supply."
Medvedev and Chancellor Angela Merkel will headline the guest list in Lubmin including the prime ministers of France and the Netherlands, Francois Fillon and Mark Rutte, and EU energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
The event will mark the arrival of Siberian gas into the European grid through the first of two 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) pipelines running under the Baltic Sea, connecting Russia directly with Germany.
The consortium for the 7.4-billion-euro ($10.2 billion) project is a joint venture between the Russian state-held gas giant Gazprom, German firms BASF and EON, Dutch company Gasunie and GDF Suez of France.
Once fully operational late next year, the twin pipelines will transport 55 billion cubic metres (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of gas a year to the EU for at least half a century, enough to supply around 26 million homes, Nord Stream says.
But Nord Stream is becoming operational just as the EU re-assesses its own reliance on Russia -- currently supplier of more than a quarter of Europe's gas -- as its primary energy source.
Russia loaded the first Siberian gas into the link in September and aims to use it to reduce its dependence on Ukraine and other transit nations where pricing disputes have occasionally disrupted delivery to Europe.
However the project has been under fire since then Russian president Vladimir Putin and the German chancellor at the time, Gerhard Schroeder, sealed the partnership in 2005.
Schroeder is now head of the Nord Stream shareholders' committee.
Poland and the Baltic states have long charged that the project, which bypasses their territory, will leave them on their own when bargaining with Russia for their own gas supplies.
Meanwhile Sweden has raised ecological objections to the massive seabed pipeline, which Gazprom has brushed aside.
On a political level, critics say Nord Stream will further tether the EU to Russia while there are serious concerns about Moscow's commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
"Nord Stream will boost security of supply but also increase dependency on Russia," the conservative German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote this week.
"Supply is too important to rely on one supplier -- the blend is what counts. The EU needs to promote supply projects which are not subject to Russian influence."
© 2011 AFP