* Sweden, Finland govts approve pipelines in their waters
* Finnish environmental decision due by year-end
* Russia PM Putin thanks Finland, Sweden
(Adds comments from analyst and Polish official, background)
By Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM, Nov 5 A plan by Russian-German
consortium Nord Stream to build a gas pipeline under the Baltic
Sea cleared two major hurdles on Thursday as Sweden and Finland
signed off on construction in their waters.
Nord Stream has raised fears both among environmental
groups, who are worried about the impact on the Baltic Sea, and
countries such as Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states which
view the project as a threat to their energy security.
"The basic risk is that once it becomes operational Russia
could stop deliveries to Poland without affecting its key
client, that is Germany," said Przemyslaw Wipler, a former top
oil expert in the Polish government.
European Union officials have backed the pipeline because it
means the bloc, while still heavily dependent on Russia for
energy needs, would be less at risk of supply disruptions due to
Moscow's running dispute with Kiev.
A standoff between Russia and Ukraine late last year left
hundreds of thousands of people temporarily without gas and
European officials are concerned a conflict could flare again.
"These steps make the pipeline more likely, but still there
is a long way to go," Wipler said, noting that for Warsaw the
worries begin in earnest once construction starts. That could
lead to Poland having to buy Russian gas via Germany.
Jubilant Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has
personally lobbied for the construction of Nord Stream in the
last few years, thanked Sweden and Finland for their decisions
at a government meeting in Moscow.
Environmentalists had raised concerns that pipeline
construction could damage the floor of the Baltic Sea and dredge
up hazardous munitions that lie there.
Sweden said Nord Stream had met strict environmental
requirements. "According to national authorities the impact on
the Baltic Sea's environment is very limited and only prevalent
for a short while in connection with the construction work,"
Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said
Finland saw no grounds for opposing the pipeline, which will
deliver 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to
Germany, although final approval from Finnish environmental
officials is still needed.
Their decision is due by the end of 2009.
Denmark gave its assent last month, leaving Russia and
Germany as the last countries to sign off. A Nord Stream
spokesman said their decisions were expected by the end of 2009.
Nord Stream, comprised of Russia's Gazprom (GAZP.MM),
Germany's BASF BASF.F and E.ON (EONGn.DE), has said
construction of the pipeline should begin in April, with
operations set to begin by the end of 2011. [ID:nN08527395]
A second line should be completed in 2012.
Poland, which acknowledged it has little influence on the
ultimate outcome, plans to focus on pushing the EU to form a
joint energy policy.
"Anyone who believed there were mechanisms in international
law enabling us or whoever else to block it, were obviously
wrong," Deputy Foreign Ministers Andrzej Kremer said.
(Additional reporting by Eva Lamppu in Helsinki, Darya
Korsunskaya in Moscow, and Patryk Wasilewski and Gabriela
Baczynska in Warsaw)
(Editing by Toby Chopra and Keiron Henderson)