The Nord Stream pipeline, inaugurated in 2011, stretches from Russia through the Baltic Sea down to German shores providing Western Europe with one more import route for natural gas from Russia. The decision by the Swedish government to allow this Russian-German pipeline to pass over Swedish sea territory was lively debated and this debate can be said to have highlighted Swedish (mostly negative) attitudes towards its great eastern neighbour as well as toward natural gas as an energy resource. Some have claimed that the reason for Sweden’s negative view of the pipeline project has to do with a lingering Swedish fear of the Russians, a heritage from the Swedish-Russian wars in the 16th and 17th centuries (Savic, 2012). The Swedish relation to both natural gas and to Russia/the Soviet Union, however, is quite a complicated one deserving to be examined more closely.
During more than 20 years, between 1967 and 1991 Swedish actors tried in different ways to secure a natural gas import contract with the Soviet Union. At that time, the fear was not so much the Russians as the possibility of energy shortage found at the core of much energy policy in the 20th century. Alongside this fear of energy shortage was a fear of entering into a strong energy dependence. Natural gas was one way to counter the energy shortage, but it was also a particularly risky energy source, since the material and organisational structure of a gas pipeline leads to a quite rigid, long term commitment.
In this context, natural gas was pointed out as both savior and villain, and in my paper I will examine how the actors navigated between these two extremes. Was natural gas as an energy source considered more risky than other sources? Were certain actors considered more dangerous to enter into agreement with than others? How did these attitudes change over time? Exploring the actors’ hopes and fears in regards to natural gas, as well as the contexts that shaped them, might shed a different light on Swedish energy policy in the end of the 20th century as well as on the view of Swedish-Soviet relations.
ESEH 2013 Circulating Natures: Water-Food-Energy; Seventh Biennial Conference of the European Society for Environmental History, August 21 – 24 Munich, Germany