BRUSSELS, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- The Nord Stream gas pipeline to bring Russian natural gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany will go into operation by 2011, Russian officials said.
Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian envoy to the European Union, told reporting agency EUobserver that gas disruptions from a dispute over gas arrears with Ukraine prompted a renewed focus on gas transit alternatives.
The dispute between Ukraine and Russia curtailed European gas supplies for weeks.
"The Nord Stream project will now be expedited, and I believe that in early 2011 it will be able to provide gas," Chizhov said.
Nord Stream will transit gas from major fields in Russia through the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea and on to European customers via Germany. The planned project is hampered by environmental and cost concerns, however.
Germany's E.ON and BASF are part of the Nord Stream international consortium, and European officials expect France may join as well. Russia is keen on establishing broad European support for the project despite fears of the geopolitical effects on the regional energy sector.
"I don't know if (Russia) escalated this (Ukraine transit) crisis intentionally, but they want to solidify links with key partners in France, Germany and Italy, and I think this crisis will achieve this," said Pierre Noel with the European Council on Foreign Relations.