07 Sep 2020, 13:55
Benjamin Wehrmann

Merkel does not rule out impact of Navalny poisoning on Nord Stream 2

Clean Energy Wire

Germany might reconsider its commitment to the controversial pipeline project Nord Stream 2 following the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny. Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a statement by her foreign minister Heiko Maas, who said  "I hope Russia does not force us to reconsider our position regarding Nord Stream 2" by resisting an investigation into the poison attack on the prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. "The chancellor aligned herself with the foreign minister's statement," Merkel's spokesman told journalists in Berlin on Monday. "She holds the view that it’s wrong to rule something out from the start," her spokesman said, adding that the chancellor would work on tabling a "thoroughly thought-through" response in cooperation with European partners. Navalny is currently being treated in Germany after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok during a trip to Siberia.

Foreign minister Maas from the Social Democrats (SPD) previously said in an interview with newspaper Bild am Sonntag there was ample evidence that Russian state actors had been involved in the attack on Navalny, calling on the Kremlin to "provide clarity within the next days." However, Maas added that those calling for a quick cancellation of the project need to consider the economic consequences for the 100 companies from 12 European countries involved in Nord Stream 2. 

Senior ministers from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU had also called for consequences to the pipeline project. Defence minister and CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer commented: "I've always said that Nord Stream 2 is not a project that I hold close to my heart," Handelsblatt reported. She said that what happens next depends on Russian diplomacy, adding that the "legitimate security concerns" of Eastern European states will always need to be considered in this respect. Health minister Jens Spahn said the ball was now in Russia's court. "Ultimately, there's no economic issue that would be more important to us than our foreign and security policy interests," he argued. Germany's government could not "return to business as usual" after Nawalny's poisoning, Spahn told newspaper Bild Zeitung.

However, other politicians from the CDU and other parties have also said that quitting the project is not a realistic option for Germany. CDU energy policy spokesman Joachim Pfeiffer said in Handelsblatt that halting Nord Stream 2 would mean "Germany shoots itself in the foot politically and economically," arguing that "our interest in an additional transport route for gas is at least as big as Russia's." Former Left Party leader Gregor Gysi speculated that the Russian government may not actually be involved in the attack on its long-term critic. In an interview with public broadcaster MDR, Gysi suggested instead that "an opponent of the natural gas pipeline to Germany" might have carried out the poisoning.

The pipeline, which has been contested by both Germany's neighbours and the USA, was almost complete by mid-2020 when some companies pulled out of the project due to the threat of US sanctions. Chancellor Merkel said the Navalny case should not bring the project to a halt, arguing that it is a purely economic project. Energy company Uniper recently said it would be questionable whether Nord Stream 2 could be finished in an economically viable way, given the challenges posed by US opposition to the project. 

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