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    Baltic nations should pay for gas pipeline branches - experts

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    MOSCOW, March 31 (RIA Novosti) - The Baltic nations interested in joining Russia's most ambitious natural-gas pipeline should do so at their own expense, according to experts asked by RIA to comment on a Gazprom suggestion that the energy giant was open to offers about building offshoots to all Baltic-region countries.

    Mikhail Zak, chief analyst with Moscow-based Veles Capital investment consultants, said there were likely to be proposals from the Baltic nations to extend branches from the North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP), which will supply natural gas to Germany across the Baltic Sea floor, but they should realize that they would have to pay for the work.

    "Business is business," Zak said. "If it is more profitable and cheaper to supply gas to Europe via a pipeline stretching along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, as opposing to transit via Poland and Ukraine, than why should it [Russia] take into account their interests?"

    The NEGP has raised concerns from Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltics that they will be cut out of the natural resources loop, worries that have been dismissed as "irrelevant" by a former Germany chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who was elected chairman of the project shareholders' committee Thursday.

    The NEGP will run from the Baltic coast near Vyborg, on the Russian-Finnish border, to the Greifswald region in north Germany, and experts said it would provide Russia with easier access to markets in countries around the Baltic region, while reducing transit costs.

    Dmitry Mangilev, an analyst with Moscow-based brokerage Prospect Investment, said the construction of NEGP offshoots could prove to be too expensive for the Baltics, so they could choose to obtain gas from the regular pipelines.

    Meanwhile, Roberto Centeno, an expert with the Polytechnic University of Madrid, said Russia must first of all protect its own interests. He added that Russia should not take into account other countries' interests, especially after the conflict with Ukraine over the natural gas prices at the start of the year.

    Russian gas currently reaches Europe by pipelines through Ukraine and Belarus, and anxiety was raised across the continent following January's spat between Russia and Ukraine that saw supplies to the former Soviet republic cut off. Russia says the NEGP will guarantee reliable supplies to European consumers, and reduce dependency on transit countries.

    The NEGP will comprise two parallel sections of 750 miles each, at a cost of 4.7 billion euros. Project manager Gazprom holds a 51% stake, with Germany's BASF and E.ON holding 24.5% each.

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