BABAYEVO, (Russia), Dec 9 (AFP): Russian and German officials are due to launch Friday the construction of a pipeline intended to bring gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, a plan that has met stiff opposition from some new EU members to Germany's east.
Work will begin in the town of Babayevo, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) inland from Vyborg, the Gulf of Finland port from where the pipeline is due to extend 1,200 kilometres (740 miles) under the Baltic to Greifswald in northeast Germany.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in June that the pipeline would start operating in 2010 with a capacity of 27 billion cubic metres of gas a year. The cost of construction has been estimated at four billion euros (4.7 billion dollars).
Russia's Gazprom holds a 51-percent-stake in the project, while Germany's E.ON and BASF each hold 24.5-percent stakes.
Friday's ceremony is to be presided over by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, German Economy and Technology Minister Michael Glos and Gazprom chairman Alexei Miller.
But the event could heighten anxieties over the project on the part of Poland and Lithuania.
These ex-communist EU members worry that the pipeline could endanger the Baltic Sea's fragile ecology and that their gas supplies could be threatened if Russia were able to export directly to western Europe without crossing east European territory.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told Bild newspaper earlier: "During the preparation of the project nobody asked our opinion even once. Everything was done behind our backs... I don't know who is trying to play around with us, Russia, or maybe Germany."
During a visit to Warsaw Monday, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs attempted to allay concerns that construction of the pipeline could disturb tonnes of chemical weapons dumped in the Baltic Sea following World War II.
"I have met with all the representatives of Gazprom, Ruhrgaz and BASF. They assured me that construction will not begin in the Baltic Sea until ecological and environmental concerns have been answered," Piebalgs told journalists.
Last week, Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel also sought to defuse tensions, promising to create a working group to examine the project that would include Poland.
Gazprom for its part has said it would be open to involvement by a third European partner in the project.
Last month during a visit to the Hague, Putin said Russia welcomed interest shown by Dutch companies in building a distribution terminal in the Netherlands for transporting gas from the planned Baltic pipeline onward to Britain and elsewhere.