11:31 GMT +322 October 2017
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    Sweden Backtracks on Baltic Gas Project For Fear of Russian 'Bugs'

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    Despite previously voiced optimism, Swedish regional authorities have made a U-turn and reconsidered plans to lease ports to the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 after the Swedish government expressed disapproval and the Swedish Armed Forces expressed security concerns.

    Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist lashed out against plans to lease Slite port on the Baltic island of Gotland together with Karlshamn harbor in mainland Sweden to Russia. Even if both ministers made it clear that the rules of regional autonomy would not allow the government to stop the unwelcomed Russian project, the local authorities took the hint and changed their minds after a secret meeting with government officials.

    "We're going to say no to leasing the port [of Slite] to Nord Stream," Tommy Gardell, chairman of the Gotland Council committee handling the decision, said as quoted by Swedish national broadcaster SVT. "It is true that the information that was shared by the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry was crucial for us, and it is obvious that we must abide by their judgments," he said.

    According to military expert Peter Mattson of the Swedish National Defense University, it would be very naïve to let "aggressive Russia" use Sweden's strategically most important areas (which were previously identified as potential entry points for a Russian "invasion" and ensuing "hostile takeover").

    "These are very important areas, where you can engage in active gathering of intelligence data. Who knows what they [the Russians] are about to place under the water? We're talking about devices that can be placed virtually anywhere. They have come a long way in submarine technologies and we don't know everything they have in their possession," Peter Mattson told SVT, citing "vast opportunities" for Russian espionage or sabotage.

    ​Swedish economist and Nord Stream council Lars O. Grönstedt ridiculed the idea that the gas pipes may be fitted with listening devices and waved aside assumptions of a Russian "aggression."

    "No one has been able to describe how such interception would go. It is a physical fact that radio signals travel much slower in water, which radically reduces the amount of data. If a foreign power were to monitor ship traffic in the Baltic Sea, it would rather use cheaper and more effective methods," Lars O. Grönstedt wrote in an opinion piece in Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri.

    Remarkably, both municipalities were initially cheerful about its participation in the lucrative Nord Stream 2 project, hoping to resuscitate their strained economies with new jobs and extra revenues.

    "This is an obvious disappointment for those expecting to improve the employment situation. Also, it would have meant a shot in the arm for the hotels and shops in Slite," Tommy Gardell told SVT.

    Both Gotland and Karlshamn Municipalities are pushing for the Swedish government to compensate for the loss of income. According to estimates by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, Karlshamn was looking forward to 100 million SEK ($11mln) in revenues, whereas Gotland counted on up to 60 million SEK ($6.5mln).

    ​Sweden's refusal will not stop Nord Stream 2, as Finnish ports of Kotka and Hanko, as well as German Mukran may be used as reserve harbors, Grönstedt pointed out to Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

     

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    Tags:
    gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, Peter Hultqvist, Margot Wallström, Gotland Island, Baltic Sea, Sweden, Russia
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