The first gas has been injected into the Nord Stream pipeline, Russia's first direct gas pipeline to Europe. Germany is due to receive its first deliveries this autumn.
Work on the Nord Stream project began in 2005
The first gas has been injected into the 1,220-kilometer Nord Stream pipeline, a link set to put an end to unreliable gas deliveries to Western Europe via transit countries.
Both former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin attended the symbolic opening ceremony on Tuesday. The pipeline, Europe’s biggest energy project, was worked out between the two leaders in 2005.
The 7.4-billion-euro pipeline runs from Russia's Arctic gas fields, under the Baltic Sea to Europe via Germany, bypassing transit nations such as Ukraine. Moscow's disputes with transit countries have in the past caused supply disruptions.
The Nord Stream pipeline runs under the Baltic Sea, bypassing transit nations.
"Transit nations are tempted to try and use their transit status. Now this exclusivity disappears," Putin told reporters at a pumping station near Vyborg, where he pressed the computer button to start Nord Stream's first gas test flows.
Partial alternative to nuclear energy
Russia supplies about a quarter of the natural gas consumed in Europe. Gas needs in Europe are expected to soar by 50 percent in the next decade to 200 billion cubic meters per year. Nord Stream will account for 55 billion cubic meters once its capacity doubles by 2013.
"The volume of gas [the link will eventually pump] is equivalent to the energy of 11 nuclear power plants," Putin said, in reference to Germany's recent decision to give up its nuclear power program by 2022.
The first gas from the pipeline is expected to reach European customers in the next few months. German customers are expected to receive their first deliveries in November.
Gazprom is the majority shareholder in the company operating Nord Stream. Minority shareholders are Germany's Wintershall and Ruhrgas, Dutch company N. V. Nederlandse and France's GDF Suez.
A second parallel pipeline, called the South Stream that runs under the Black Sea, is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. It is due to start pumping gas to Bulgaria and beyond in 2015 at the earliest.
Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler