Source AP ©

Gasunie NV included in Nord Stream project

Dutch company Nederlandse Gasunie NV will be included in a Baltic Sea pipeline designed to bypass several European countries and ship Russian gas directly to Germany, according to an agreement signed by Russia and Netherlands on Tuesday.

The deal, widely expected, is good news for the Nord Stream project, which has seen planning delays, cost overruns and opposition from some European Union countries, including Poland and the Baltic nations.

The agreement to give Gasunie a 9 percent stake, worth a reported Ђ5 billion (US$7.24 billion), was signed at the Kremlin by officials from Gasunie and state-controlled gas company JSC Gazprom with visiting Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and President Vladimir Putin in attendance.

"I hope the good example of relations with the Netherlands will serve as an impulse to the development of relations between Russian and the European Union as a whole," Putin told Balkenende ahead of the signing ceremony.

The 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) undersea pipeline will eventually carry 55 billion cubic meters (1.9 trillion cubic feet) of gas each year from the northwestern Russian port of Vyborg to the northern German port of Greifswald, bypassing current routes through Poland, Belarus and Ukraine.

It has provoked opposition in Poland, which gets transit fees from Russian gas crossing its territory.

Gazprom currently holds 51 percent of the project, while German energy companies E.On Ruhrgas AG and Wintershall AG each held 24.5 percent. The Dutch company's 9 percent share came from the German companies' holdings.

Some countries on the Baltic Sea, meanwhile, worry that the pipeline poses a major risk to the environment and that Russian activity in their territorial waters could compromise military security.

Also Tuesday, Nord Stream's technical director said the construction start date would be pushed by back into 2009, with the first gas not being delivered until the following year. The Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Serdukov as blaming Baltic Sea countries for the delay.

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