Russian energy giant Gazprom signed a deal on Tuesday with Gasunie, giving the Dutch natural gas transportation company 9% in a pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea.
"Gasunie will receive stakes from our German partners [BASF and E.ON], 4.5% from each of them," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said. The stake handover is in line with the original contract signed between Gazprom and the German firms on building the Nord Stream pipeline, he added.
Experts said the deal with the Dutch company will help Russia resolve political difficulties plaguing the ambitious project, and clear the way for the state-controlled giant to pump gas directly to consumers in the European Union.
Mikhail Korchemkin, head of U.S.-based consulting firm East European Gas Analysis, told Kommersant daily: "Gazprom needs to obtain authorizations quicker, and the Netherlands could help speed up the process."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a Kremlin ceremony also attended by Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, said the deal would advance the Nord Stream project.
"Gasunie's participation in the project makes it more versatile, and of course creates better conditions for its implementation," Putin said.
Poland and the ex-Soviet Baltic states, which have chilly relations with Moscow, have criticized the pipeline project, fearing they will be cut off from Russian gas supplies. The pipe will bypass their territories, linking Russia to Germany.
Other Baltic nations have voiced concerns over the environmental threat posed by Nord Stream.
Donald Tusk, set to become Poland's prime minister this week, warned on Tuesday that Russia and Germany could soon make radical changes to the project, but did not give details.
Under Tuesday's deal, the Russian monopolist receives 9% in Gasunie-controlled pipeline operator BBL, which is building a pipeline to pump gas from the Netherlands to Britain.
Russian media reports said earlier the Netherlands could offer Gazprom stakes in other gas infrastructure projects implemented by Dutch firms in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany in exchange for access to Nord Stream.
Gazprom holds a 51% stake in operator Nord Stream AG, and BASF and E.ON held 24.5% each until Tuesday's deal. The 1,200-km (746-mile) pipeline with a capacity of 27.5 billion cu m of gas a year is planned to be commissioned in 2010. ( RIA )