Russian Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder presided Tuesday over the opening of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which links Russia's massive Arctic natural gas fields with energy-hungry European Union consumers, dpa reported.
The 1,224-kilometre Nord Stream pipeline, starting at Russia's northwestern town of Vyborg, will make its first fuel deliveries to Germany's terminus near the town of Greifswald in late October or early November, officials at the Russian energy company
Schroeder served as Germany's leader from 1998 to 2005, and shortly after leaving office became the head of an in international advisory committee for the Nord Stream project.
It will take around two months for workers to raise the pressure in the pipeline to operational levels and test its entire length for possible leaks.
The pipeline's projected annual 55-billion-cubic-metre gas capacity is necessary to meet rising demand, while lowering the volume of Russian gas shipments sent to European consumers via already-existing Ukrainian pipelines, Putin said.
Rows between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas pricing have caused repeated supply interruptions including a total shut off of all Russian gas to Europe for three weeks in early 2009. In past years, around 80 per cent of all Russian gas exported to Europe passed through pipelines crossing Ukraine.
Once Nord Stream is fully operational, Ukraine will no longer be able to interrupt Russian gas supplies to Europe and use that capacity as a lever against Gazprom, Putin said.
"Any country with transit capacity will try and exploit its advantage if it can," Putin said. "Ukraine will lose this ability."
Russian gas sent via the Nord Stream pipeline will primarily go to consumers in Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, according to news reports.
The first of two planned Nord Stream pipeline conduits was laid down in April 2010. Energy industry observers have estimated the project's total estimated cost at close to 20 billion dollars.
Gazprom is the majority shareholder in the company operating Nord Stream. The minority shareholders are Germany's Wintershall and Ruhrgas, Dutch company N. V. Nederlandse and France's GDF Suez.