The second phase of a gas pipeline linking Russia with the European Union has gone into operation. Officials say the underwater pipeline will help ensure a stable supply of gas to EU member states.
The opening of the second phase of the Nord Stream project doubled the capacity of the pipeline, allowing it to carry 55 billion cubic meters (72 billion cubic yards) of natural gas annually – according to a statement on the company's web site.
The first phase, which links a facility in Russia with one in the northern German coastal town of Lubmin, had come on line in November of last year.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a major backers of the project when it was in its infancy seven years ago, attended the opening ceremony just outside of St. Petersburg on Monday.
He described the project as an expression of "confidence" between Russia and the European Union.
"If Europe wants to assert itself in global competition, this won't work without Russian gas in particular," said Schröder, who now serves as the chairman of Nord Stream's shareholder committee.
Both current Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Putin sent video messages to the opening ceremony.
Merkel said the 1224-kilometer (761-mile) pipeline would make the energy supply more secure for all of Europe. "This is a good day," Merkel added.
The European Union imports about a fifth of its natural gas from Russia, but a number of disputes between Moscow and its neighbors have led to major disruptions in the supply in the past.
The Russian gas giant Gazprom controls Nord Stream, holding 51 percent of the shares in the company. The German firms Eon Ruhrgas, and BASF subsidiary Wintershall are also among the major shareholders.
pfd/dr (dpa, AFP, DAPD)