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Thursday's papers: Finland reacts to Nord Stream 'sabotage', the pipeline's history, an ex-PM's Russian client

Ilta-Sanomat offers a political history lesson about the lack of debate surrounding the Nord Stream gas pipeline project when its construction was planned.

In Finland, decision-makers persisted in treating the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline as purely an economic project, Ilta-Sanomat writes, adding that only few politicians in the past have raised concerns about the pipelines' potential national security implications. Image: Tanskan puolustusvoimat

A report by Helsingin Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) details and reflects on the press conference held by Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP), Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green), Minister of Defence Antti Kaikkonen (Cen) and Interior Minister Krista Mikkonen (Green), late on Wednesday evening about the damaged underwater Nord Stream gas pipelines.

On Tuesday, it was discovered that the pipelines, located in Swedish and Danish waters, had been damaged and were leaking gas into the Baltic Sea. Not long after that, suspicions began to rise that the damage was intentional.

Petja Pelli, a political journalist at HS, reports that Marin called the leaks "extremely worrying" and she stated bluntly that it appeared that they were deliberately caused. Despite Marin's observation that the breach of the pipelines might be part of a "broader scheme to undermine European security," the PM did not specify which nation she thought might be behind the suspected sabotage.

Pelli writes that the ministers' references to conversations they had with their Nordic and Baltic counterparts revealed the seriousness of the situation.

"Nato will also discuss sabotage," Kaikkonen added, no longer making any reference to "possible" sabotage. Pelli points out that "there really is no other rational explanation for the fact that massive pipes deep at the bottom of the sea break at several points at the same time."

So far, Finland, Sweden and Denmark have not called the situation a military threat, Pelli notes, adding that this is understandable, as Marin said, a possible motive for the suspected sabotage is precisely to intimidate Europe.

Pelli adds that the leaks may well be recorded as the moment when Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine extended to the Baltic Sea, at least in an ambiguous, hybrid form. Pelli further notes that there are pipelines running along the bottom of the Baltic Sea that still carry natural gas to Europe, and their importance has now increased.

On Thursday, Finland's government is expected to further restrict Russian transit through Finland and to the rest of the Schengen area.

Nord Stream "purely an economic project"

In Finland, decision-makers persisted in treating the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline as purely an economic project, Ilta-Sanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) writes, adding that only a few individual politicians in the past have raised concerns about the pipelines' potential national security implications.

In 2007, then-president Tarja Halonen discussed the Nord Stream project with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "in a constructive spirit". At the time, Halonen said that "for Finns, the gas pipeline issue is precisely an ecological issue. If the pipeline can be built in an ecologically safe way, then we think it is a good solution."

Matti Vanhanen (Cen), who served as Prime Minister at the time, agreed with Halonen.

Former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen (SDP ) also wondered aloud during an interview with Yle in 2009 why a gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea was considered a national security issue, saying that the discussion about their national security implications had been "loose and unjustified talk".

In 2007, the Finnish Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs ruled that "for Finland, Nord Stream is an environmental issue". The committee was chaired at the time by Pertti Salolainen (NCP).

The most outspoken critic of the Nord Stream pipeline project was MP Tuulikki Ukkola (NCP), Ilta-Sanomat reports. "The Foreign Minister's statements this evening have really made me wonder. Who in the world has scared you half to death? [...] It is strange that no minister mentions that the Baltic Sea will indeed become a military and security flashpoint," Ukkola said at the time.

Back then, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Stubb (NCP) said that the government's view of the matter was unequivocal. "For us, this is not a security policy issue. Increasing interdependence between Russia and Europe is a good thing," Stubb stated.

Parliament did not debate the Nord Stream project.

In 2016, MP Elina Valtonen (NCP) submitted a written question on the security policy dimension of the pipeline project and asked whether the government intended to carry out a security policy analysis concerning it.

The Prime Minister at the time, Juha Sipilä (Cen), responded that Finland had largely been neutral towards the Nord Stream project, and that it considered it to be a commercial endeavour.

"Finland has no specific national interests to oppose or support the project. The project does not affect Finland's energy security and, according to the current assessment, has no other direct security implications for Finland. The key issue to be assessed in the project in Finland is the environmental impact," Sipilä said in his reply.

Sipilä's government gave its consent to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in 2018.

Ex-PM Lipponen's Russian links

Taloussanomat (siirryt toiseen palveluun) writes that former Finnish PM Lipponen's lectures and advice have brought in a lot of money for his company Cosmopolis, with the latest financial statements revealing a turnover of 369,000 euros last year, with an operating profit of 282,000 euros.

This is a staggering result, according to Taloussanomat, as the operating profit margin for Lipponen's company is as high as 76.4 percent. According to financial data services firm Suomen Asiakastieto the average operating margin for companies in the same sector is much lower at 13.3 percent.

The former premier became a consultant after leaving politics in 2007, TS writes, with one of his best-known clients the Nord Stream AG gas pipeline company, a majority shareholder of which is the Russian state-owned company Gazprom.

According to the Finnish Trade Register, Lipponen's company's activities include lecture services, consultancy, investment and intellectual property management, TS reports, adding that the ex-PM sits on the company's board alongside his wife, Päivi Lipponen, likewise a former SDP parliamentarian. The company has no staff and its costs are relatively low. The financial statements do not indicate where the company's revenues come from, TS writes.

A striking feature of Lipponen's financial statements from previous years, Taloussanomat notes, is that his company's turnover was comparatively high until 2014, but collapsed the following year.

Iltalehti also reported on Cosmopolis' activities in September, noting that Lipponen's company's weakest financial year was in 2015, after the invasion of Crimea, when the company made its only loss in its history. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

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