This article is part of our special report EU-Ukraine Relations.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday (5 September) that his country would begin pumping the first technical gas through the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline from today, so that European clients could start receiving supplies in October or November.
"Tomorrow we will start pumping technical gas near Vyborg," Putin said on Monday (5 September) at a meeting of his governing United Russia party, referring to the gas flows needed to start supplies.
The 7.4-billion-euro, 1,220-kilometre pipeline aims to deliver 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year, linking Russia's Vyborg, a city 130 kilometres northwest of St. Petersburg, to the German city of Greifswald.
Constructed under the Baltic, the pipeline will run past the coasts of Finland, Sweden and Denmark (see 'Background').
The project was heavily backed by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who now chairs the Nord Stream shareholders' committee.
In a reference to Ukraine, with whom Russia is entangled in another gas pricing dispute, Putin indicated that his country was following a strategy to bypass problematic transit countries.
"Gradually, in a calm manner we are departing from the diktat of transit states," Putin said, quoted by AFP.
EU to speak with one voice to Russia?
In the meantime, the European Commission is preparing measures to boost its own powers in energy relations with non-EU countries such as Russia.
According to a draft Commission proposal, EU governments will for the first time have to notify Brussels of planned bilateral energy pacts with foreign countries, allowing the executive to scrutinise such deals.
The Commission will for the first time be able to request the power to negotiate energy deals on behalf of the 27-member bloc where agreements will have repercussions for the whole EU, according to the draft.
The executive will also push for deeper relations between the EU, Russia and Ukraine to avoid a repeat of the January 2009 dispute between Kyiv and Moscow, which saw supplies to consumers briefly cut off in Poland and other EU states, the draft indicates.
The Nord Stream gas pipeline aims to bring Siberian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Russia's 'problematic' neighbours, including Ukraine.
Nord Stream is designed to transport up to 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year, enough to supply more than 25 million households.
Nord Steam is a joint project by four major companies: Gazprom, BASF/Wintershall Holding AG, E.ON Ruhrgas AG and N.V. Nederlandse Gasunie. Gazprom leads the consortium with a 51% stake.
The pan-European nature of the pipeline is underscored by its status as a project under the EU's Trans-European Networks energy guidelines. This status was confirmed in 2006.
The total budget of Nord Steam is €7.4 billion, which makes it one of the largest privately-financed infrastructure projects ever attempted.
On 1 March 2010, in the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, GDF Suez and Gazprom signed an agreement in Paris, formalising the participation of the French utility in the Nord Stream pipeline project.
The Nord Stream project is considered controversial in several countries, including Sweden, Poland and the Baltic states.
- AFP: Russia to pump gas through Nord Stream 'on Tuesday'
- RIA Novosti, Russia:Gazprom starts filling Nord Stream pipeline