08 Sep 2020, 13:53
Benjamin Wehrmann

Germany's econ min sceptical about Nord Stream 2 sanctions in reaction to Navalny poisoning

ARD / Der Spiegel / Deutschlandfunk

Economic sanctions against Russia in reaction to the suspected poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny are unlikely to alter the Russian government's stance on the case, German energy minister Peter Altmaier said in a discussion programme on public broadcaster ARD. Altmaier said he was aware of "no instance" in which a country like Russia would have "reconsidered its position" under the threat of sanctions, which usually leads to a "toughening" of the situation instead. However, he did not rule out the possibility of sanctions if Russia violates "fundamental human rights." Altmaier stressed that a concerted reaction by the European Union would be indispensable in this regard. Foreign minister Heiko Maas had stated that Navalny's poisoning and Russia's handling of the case might lead Germany to reconsider its commitment to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project. Construction of the near-complete pipeline through the Baltic Sea had been halted due to sanctions and sanction threats from the US.
Manuela Schwesig, premier of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where the pipeline will make landfall, said she was clearly opposed to ending the project. The "crime" against Navalny "should not be used to call Nord Stream 2 into question," Schwesig told the news magazine Der Spiegel in an interview. The state premier argued that foreign minister Maas had not outrightly called for a stop to the pipeline, adding that those who had always been opposed to Nord Stream 2 would now use the Navalny case as a pretext to reach their aim. She called the gas pipeline a "necessary infrastructure project" that Germany needs "at least in a transitional phase" in order to carry out its planned phase-out of nuclear and coal power. The alternative for covering Germany's energy demand would be importing "fracking gas" from the US, "certainly a worse option from an ecological perspective and also more expensive." Schwesig argued the US is pursuing "strict economic interests" with its opposition to Nord Stream 2, while Washington itself increased its oil imports from Russia.   
The head of the German Eastern Business Association, Michael Harms, doubted that the project could still be stopped legally. In an interview with public radio Deutschlandfunk, Harms argued all permits and contracts regarding Nord Stream 2 had already been issued by Germany and other European countries. "Legally, I think it's hardly possible," Harms said.

Germany has been debating a stop to the pipeline project, which has been contested by stakeholders in Germany, several of the country's neighbours and the United States government. Chancellor Angela Merkel initially said the Navalny case should not bring construction to a halt, arguing that it is a purely economic project. However, her spokesperson later said she does not generally rule out that the Navalny poisoning would have an impact on Nord Stream 2. 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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