June 18 (UPI) -- Expanding the capacity of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea is a purely commercial ambition, a Kremlin spokesman said Monday.
Sweden's government became the latest to issue the permit necessary for Russian energy company Gazprom to build and operate the 315-mile section of the planned second leg of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in its territorial waters.
Gazprom is doubling the pipeline with more capacity along the network's existing 760-mile artery. Permits from Russia and Denmark are pending.
Russia is one of the main suppliers of natural gas to the European economy, though most of that gas runs through Soviet-era pipelines in Ukraine where it's exposed to security risks.
The Nord Stream pipeline avoids Ukrainian territory by running through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Plans to double the network have been meet with concerns from the United States and Europe, who worry about Gazprom's anti-trust behavior and Russia's tacit strategy of using energy for political leverage.
A bipartisan group of 39 U.S. senators sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department expressing opposition to Russian plans for Nord Stream. If built, it would leave U.S. allies in Europe more exposed to the Kremlin's "malign influence," the letter read.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said twinning the Nord Stream pipeline is supply-side effort.
"We know that some countries express their disagreement," he was quoted by Russian news agency Tass as saying. "However, this project is purely commercial, it has no political connotations, and somehow countering its implementation would violate the principles and norms of free competition."
Global energy demand is expected to increase by about 16 percent by 2030 and, even as the world's economy shifts toward renewable energy resources, oil and gas will still account for more than half of the demand. For natural gas, the global appetite swells 23 percent by 2030, beating the expected demand for crude oil.
European countries like Poland have few resources of their own, leaving them dependent on countries like Russia for energy supplies. Norway is the second-largest supplier to the European market behind Russia.