The Russian government has issued a stark rebuttal to fears voiced in the Baltics about the ecological impact of the Gazprom-led North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) project.

The RIA Novosti news agency reports comments from Russia’s ministry for natural resources dismissing the fears about the environmental impact of the pipeline from some of the Baltic states.

Certainly, any country has the right to know whether a business project threatens its ecology, deputy minister Valentin Stepankov was quoted as saying. Raising such a question is natural, and we will give the relevant answers.

The Russians say that a study of the land route of the pipeline has already been approved by environmental experts, and a further study of the marine impact is still to take place.

The NEGP is already proving an emotive issue in eastern Europe in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute at the turn of the year. The project is intended to boost supplies of gas to western Europe, with some 55 billion cubic meters set to be pumped through the line when it comes on stream in 2010.

However this has led to fears in countries such as Ukraine and Poland that their gas supplies could be restricted as the key transit route for Russian gas to Europe will no longer pass over their territory.