"The cooperation with the Russian government is one of my priorities,” Oettinger stated before his departure.
“This is why Russia is the first country outside the European Union I visit in my capacity as EU Commissioner for Energy. Russia is a strategic partner for Europe and we hope to improve further our energy relations based on confidence and mutual trust,” he said.
In Russia, the German commissioner responsible for energy will meet deputy prime minister Igor Sechin, Energy minister Sergey Shmatko and Gazprom CEO Aleksey Miller.
On 9 April, he will attend celebrations marking the launch of construction works for the Nord Stream gas pipeline in Portovaya bay (Vyborg). Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to take part, the Russian press writes.
The EU's demand for oil and gas is estimated to increase further in the future. It is for this reason, and for energy security reasons, that the EU welcomes new pipeline projects such as Nord Stream. The pipeline is a 'Project of European Interest', which is part of the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E), says a paper circulated by the Commission services.
First pipes installed
On Tuesday evening, project leader Gazprom announced that the first pipes had been laid. Pipe-laying is expected to take place at a pace of up to 3km a day.
"The construction of Nord Stream is an important milestone for the improvement of the security of supply for the whole EU. The attendance of Energy Commissioner Oettinger at the start of construction highlights the genuine European character of the project," Sebastian Saas, head of the Nord Stream EU representation, told EurActiv.
Asked if the project appeared less strategic following recent elections in Ukraine and a better climate between Moscow and Kiev, Saas insisted that the project was designed to meet increased demand for gas, not bypass any particular country.
"Nord Stream is around for the long term, fifty years at least. Long-term indicators and the International Energy Agency show that there is a need for additional import pipelines, such as Nord Stream," he said.
Asked if underwater construction would result in higher prices for European consumers, Saas insisted that this was not going to be the case.
"The construction of an off-shore pipeline is indeed more expensive. But the maintenance is relatively cheaper. Over fifty years the all-over costs are significantly lower than compared to another alternative," he said.