The controversial Nord Stream pipeline which started operations on Tuesday takes an undersea rather than an overland route.
That means gas going from Russia’s largest fields to Europe’s energy markets bypasses transit countries — notably Ukraine — with which Moscow has had disputes in the past, though the Kremlin denies that is why it was built.
From a compression plant in Vybord, Russia the gas flows to a receiving station at Lubmin in Germany, near the Polish border to be pumped onwards throughout Europe in other pipelines.
Nord Stream can carry 55 billion cubic metres of gas each year though the initial capacity is half that.
The pipeline has changed the balance of power in energy supplies, reducing Ukraine’s clout; up till now 80 percent of Russian gas sold to Europe has come via Ukraine. The Polish also opposed the pipeline to no avail.
Russia is determined to keep a firm grip on one of the world’s biggest gas markets and as well as Nord Stream it plans to build another massive pipeline through southern Europe.
Europe currently gets a quarter of its gas supplies from Russia and is likely to be more dependent than ever as Germany phases out its nuclear power in just over ten years time and other EU countries shelve plans to build nuclear reactors.