The European Parliament demanded that construction be halted on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, in a resolution passed on Thursday.
It issued the call in response to Russia arresting opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon his return to Russia. He had been in Germany recovering from an attempted assassination with a military grade nerve agent.
Nord Stream 2 will transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, and will double the capacity of an existing pipeline. The €10 billion (roughly $11 billion) Baltic Sea pipeline is about 90% finished, but has attracted considerable criticism and divided the European Union.
"The European Parliament ... calls on the EU and its member states to critically review cooperation with Russia in various foreign policy platforms and on projects such as Nord Stream 2, the completion of which the EU must stop immediately," the resolution said.
Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the nonbinding resolution, with 581 votes in favor, 50 against and 44 abstentions.
Call for sanctions
The resolution also calls for sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle as well as the Russian officials behind the arrest of Navalny. It stressed that "Russian wealth of unclear origin should not be welcome in the EU."
It calls for the immediate release of Navalny and his colleagues.
After the resolution passed, Russian authorities arrested more associates of Navalny, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, who was seated next to him on his almost fatal flight from Tomsk.
"The police have started forcing open the door and are saying: come out, you're coming out on Saturday anyway and we're going to detain you," Yarmysh wrote on Twitter before she was detained at her Moscow home, referring to planned protests this weekend.
Merkel defends project
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that she would not abandon the project, despite it being the subject of bipartisan US sanctions. She said she wants to discuss the project with Joe Biden's new administration and that the poisoning of Navalny had not changed her opinion of the project.
"I am saying today that ... my basic attitude has not yet changed in such a way that I would say that the project shouldn't happen," Merkel told reporters.
"We will of course speak with the new American administration," she said. "We must also talk about what economic relationships with
Russia in the gas sector are acceptable and what aren't. And it's not as if there were absolutely no trade relations between the United
States of America and Russia in the oil sector, for example."
"We must put everything on the table, and talk about whether we want to have no trade with Russia in the gas sector at all, and what dependence is tolerable,'' Merkel added. She underscored Germany's objections to "extraterritorial sanctions."
Environmental groups have also lodged complaints against the project, with Germany's regulator announcing on Thursday that it was still awaiting details of that challenge.
Critics — most prominently Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states — say the project will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy, which could be used as a political lever by Moscow. The pipeline will also further sideline these countries from the transit fees they collect for gas exported across their territory rather than under the sea.
"It is in Europe's interest that this pipeline is not built," said Green Party European Parliament member Reinhard Bütikofer.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc's foreign ministers would discuss the issue at a meeting on Monday, but warned: "We cannot prevent companies from building it if the German government is in favor of it."
aw/msh (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)