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Swedish island to reject deal with Russian energy giant over security fears

The Baltic Sea island of Gotland is planning to reject a request by Gazprom to rent its harbor. The decision comes amid growing security concerns over Russia's influence in Europe.

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Officials on the Swedish island said on Wednesday they were planning to reject the bid by state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom, citing government pressure.

"Following the information we got from the government, we very likely will say 'no,'" a member of the island council's technical board told The Associated Press. "We will align with the government."

Gazprom, which is planning to build its Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea, wanted to lease harbors on both Gotland as well as in the southeastern city of Karlshamm, which has delayed a vote on the matter.

Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist and Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom spoke with officials from Gotland and Karlshamm to express their concerns that both harbors are located in strategically critical areas. Karlshamm, for example, is near a main naval base, sparking criticism from members of the military and the intelligence service.

Gotland, meanwhile, is the site of a permanent Swedish military presence that was just re-established this year. Officials from the island will formally turn down the deal on Thursday, Swedish news agency TT reported.

Russland Zentrale von Gazprom in Moskau (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Kadobnov)

Gazprom is currently planning to extend a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea

Regional tensions on the rise

Gazprom had agreed with the EU on the construction of the new pipeline, which will run parallel to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, last year. However, the project has been met with growing resistance from European leaders as the Baltic states grow jittery over a possible Russian intrusion in the wake of the country's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The situation has grown increasingly tense over the past several months thanks to ongoing disputes over how to end the conflict in Syria, as well as US accusations that Russian hackers intervened in the presidential election.

Adding to the concerns is the fact that the EU imports a third of its gas from Russia, prompting fears that Brussels is becoming too reliant on Moscow for its energy supply.

In response to the renewed fears, NATO has pledged to send more forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland. Germany confirmed it will send Leopard 2 tanks to Lithuania as part of the plan.

blc/sms (AP, Reuters)

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