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Clouds gather over Nord Stream 2

September 7, 2020

Chancellor Merkel believes it's "wrong to rule anything out" when it comes to Berlin's reaction to the Navalny poisoning. This could spell trouble for Nord Stream 2, the massive gas pipeline linking Russia and Germany.

Pipes for Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the German port of Mukran
Image: Imago Images/C. Schroedter

Angela Merkel's spokesman has said the German chancellor believes "it's wrong to rule anything out" over Moscow's refusal to acknowledge the findings that Alexei Navalny was poisoned. 

Navalny, a key Russian opposition figure, was airlifted from the Siberian city of Omsk late last month to a Berlin clinic in a medically induced coma. Citing toxicological testing that showed "proof without doubt," German authorities said last week that he had been poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent. 

On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the Kremlin reaction of denying responsibility could determine whether Germany changed its backing of the Nord Stream 2 project being constructed for Gazprom, which would bring Russian gas to Germany. 

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert, when asked at a Monday press conference whether Merkel still insisted on decoupling the Navalny case from the project, said: "The chancellor also believes that it's wrong to rule anything out." 

He also said Berlin was "certainly not talking about months or the end of the year" in waiting for a reply from Moscow.

The controversial project, which began construction in 2018, is funded by five energy concerns and involves 600 contractors. So far, 1,855 kilometers (1,153 miles) of pipeline have been laid in Russian, Finnish, Swedish and German waters, making Nord Stream 2 nearly complete. 

Pipeline targeted by United States

The second conduit tracks an already-functioning seabed pipeline, Nord Stream 1. The United States has long criticized European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia, with President Donald Trump wielding the threat of sanctions to pressure contractors, including those from Germany, into halting the project.

Within Merkel's grand coalition government, assessments are mixed on whether Nord Stream 2 should become part of the Navalny-Russia wrangle. 

A spokeswoman for the German Economy Ministry told the Reuters news agency on Monday that a construction halt would have "very high" impact on provision of energy to Germany. 

Port focus of US-German dispute

Business image risks

Oliver Hermes, chairman of the German Eastern Business Association (OAOEV), with 350 member companies, warned Monday that a project halt would make investors reluctant to support EU and German projects. 

"The project was approved by all relevant authorities in the EU, including national authorities in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Finland," said Hermes. 

Read more: Confronting Russia over Navalny, EU has limited options

A project halt would leave Europe with less gas and higher prices, should Europe instead switch to fracking gas from the United States, liquefied gas from Qatar or other pipeline gas from Algeria, Libya or Azerbaijan, said Hermes. 

The Russian newspaper Kommersant in its Monday edition said Gazprom "can extend its contracts at least into 2021 even without Nord Stream 2."

Separately, Vienna-based Russian envoy Mikhail Ulyanov expressed suspicion about the timing of Navalny's case and the gas pipeline project. 

"Suspicious coincidence of Navalny case and the final stage of Nord Stream 2 construction, which some states desperately want to be closed. I am not fond of conspiracy theories but it is obvious that the tragic events with Navalny are very timely and helpful for opponents of NS2," he tweeted. 

ipj/dj (dpa, Reuters, AFP)