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Russia in full-court press over European gas pipeline

Gazprom needs access to more pipelines in order to expand existing network.

By
Daniel J. Graeber
Russian natural gas company Gazprom mounts a demand defense to support plans to expand natural gas pipeline networks in Europe. File Photo by Igor Golovniov/Shutterstock
Russian natural gas company Gazprom mounts a demand defense to support plans to expand natural gas pipeline networks in Europe. File Photo by Igor Golovniov/Shutterstock

European regulators may be standing in the way of their own regional energy security with their stance against a gas pipeline, Russia's Gazprom said.

Viktor Zubkov, the chairman of the board at Russian gas giant Gazprom, said European regulators were needlessly standing in the way of access to the OPAL gas pipeline.

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"Its capacities had been groundlessly blocked for several years," he was quoted as saying by Russian news agency Tass. "The relevance of the decision is demonstrated by the fact that already at the beginning of this year Nord Stream was utilized to the greatest possible extent, though previously experts said a pipeline via the Baltics was not needed."

Access to OPAL is necessary if the Russian natural gas company is to twin its Nord Stream natural gas pipeline running through the Baltic Sea to Germany. In early 2016, a Polish antitrust authority found plans to expand Nord Stream might lead to restriction of competition because of Gazprom's dominant position in the country's gas market.

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Late last year, the European Court suspended an earlier decision by the European Commission to expand the Russian energy company's access to the OPAL pipeline. A Polish company known by its initials PGNiG issued a complaint to European justice officials that said Gazprom was not in compliance with rulings on the regional gas market as they relate to the OPAL pipeline.

PGNiG said increased access for Gazprom would have "serious and negative" impacts on the stability and competitiveness of gas supplies to Poland. Gazprom Deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said Tuesday it was hoped that the European courts would make a "reasonable" decision on the pipeline this year.

Europe aims to break the Russian grip on the energy sector by relying instead on rival producers like Azerbaijan. Liquefied natural gas, which is less exposed to geopolitical rows, could also play a role in European diversification schemes.

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