MOSCOW, November 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's prime minister thanked Sweden and Finland on Thursday for approving the construction of a Russian-German natural gas pipeline through their economic zones in the Baltic Sea.
"Sweden's government has given its permission to the Nord Stream consortium to build two parallel pipelines to carry gas through the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea," Vladimir Putin told the Cabinet. "I want to thank the Swedish government for this decision."
"And a big thank you to our Finnish partners," he said.
Denmark approved the $12 billion pipeline, set to bypass the traditional transit nations of Ukraine, Poland and Belarus, last month.
Russia and Ukraine, which transits around 80% of Russia's Europe-bound gas, have had a series of conflicts over gas prices and debts in recent years, which led to brief cutoffs in supplies in 2006 and at the start of this year.
The 1,200-kilometer (750-mile) Nord Stream pipeline is designed to pump some 56 billion cubic meters of gas a year from the Russian port of Vyborg to the German port of Greifswald.
Putin said the pipeline consortium had tackled environmental concerns expressed by Sweden.
"Nord Stream has consistently fulfilled what the Swedish government demanded," he said.
Sweden's environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, said approval was given following "an extensive analysis of the pipeline's impact on the environment."
Nord Stream senior management adviser Lars O Gronstedt said Sweden's permission was "a result of major environmental studies, and years-long close cooperation with state bodies and discussions with the parties involved and experts."
The Finnish government said later on Thursday that Nord Stream was still to receive an environmental permit from the country's regulator overseeing the area, including over security measures to be taken while exploding wartime mines and munitions.
Poland, which receives gas fees from transiting Russian gas via its territory, has also objected to the project. Another Baltic state, Estonia, has lobbied against building the pipeline, citing environmental concerns. Some analysts in Russia have called the country's objections political.
The pipeline is being built by Russia's Gazprom, which holds 51% in the project, Germany's E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall which own 20% each, and Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie with 9%.
Nord Stream and the South Stream gas pipeline to carry gas to southeastern Europe are part of Russia's efforts to cut dependence on transit nations. South Stream is a rival project to the EU-backed Nabucco, which would bypass Russia.
The project is now to be formally approved by Russia and Germany.
A senior official in Russia's Natural Resources Ministry said on Thursday Russia could approve the project in late November or early December.
The operator has already submitted the required documents to the environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor.
"To my knowledge, a decision to approve the gas pipeline in Russian territorial waters is to be taken in late November - early December this year," Vladimir Ivlev said.
Nord Stream spokesman Steffen Ebert said Germany was expected to give its formal approval before the end of the year.
The construction is due to begin in 2010 and completed in 2012.