Swedish Baltic Sea island Gotland says ‘no’ to harbor deal with Nord Stream

By Reuters - December 15, 2016

STOCKHOLM — The Swedish Baltic island of Gotland has heeded government security concerns and will reject a request from Russian gas firm Gazprom to rent a harbor to support construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, an island official said on Wednesday.

At the same time, the southeastern city of Karlshamn, which had similar plans to lease a harbor to the Russian state-controlled firm, delayed a vote on the contract.

Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom had on Tuesday told Gotland and Karlshamn officials in a meeting that the deals would harm Swedish defense interests.

“The information we received was crucial for us,” Tommy Gardell, chairman of Gotland’s Technical Services Committee, told the Swedish news agency TT.

“We in the region aren’t able to make the kind of assessments made at the Defence Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. Clearly we need to comply with their assessments.”

The two harbors are situated in strategically sensitive areas – Karlshamn is close to the main naval base at Karlskrona – and the military and the domestic intelligence service, as well as the center-right opposition in parliament, have voiced their opposition to the planned leases.

Since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, its military activity in the Baltic Sea has increased, and Sweden this year re-established a permanent military presence on Gotland for the first time since 2005.

Gazprom’s plan to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea has met resistance in particular from Ukraine, which is set to lose transit earnings on Russian gas crossing its territory.

Others such as Poland and the United States say it will make the EU too dependent on Russia, already the source of one-third of its gas. Sweden‘s own imports of gas are relatively minor.

Gotland policy makers, who had earlier been in favor of a deal, will formally turn the deal down on Thursday, the Swedish news agency TT reported.

Karlshamn Mayor Per-Ola Mattsson said the city would not make a decision on the harbor deal before February. The deals would be worth about 150 million crowns ($16.4 million) for Gotland and Karlshamn combined.

Reporting by Bjorn Rundstrom.