Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Germany Uses Novichok as Leverage With Kremlin Over Gas Pipeline

A worker passes a blue Nord Stream 2 branded protective end cap on a section of pipe at the landing site of Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, operated by Gazprom PJSC, in Lubmin, Germany, on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Germany is preparing one of its biggest sustained increases in natural gas consumption in almost two decades, regardless of U.S. admonitions that it shouldnt draw so much of its energy from Russia.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s top diplomat warned Russia that Germany’s support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is at risk if the Kremlin doesn’t assist in clarifying the poisoning of dissident Alexey Navalny.

It was the first time a cabinet minister in Merkel’s government explicitly linked the fate of the Baltic Sea pipeline to Russia’s cooperation in an inquiry.

“More than 100 companies from 12 European countries are part of Nord Stream 2, about half of those from Germany,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “I certainly hope that the Russians don’t force us to change our stance.”

The German military’s finding this week that Navalny was attacked with a novichok nerve agent has put pressure on Merkel’s controversial backing of Nord Stream 2, which will ship Russian gas directly to Europe’s largest economy. Maas said Germany and its partners would need to coordinate a response unless Russia clarifies the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning in the “next few days.”

Read our QuickTake explainer: Why the World Frets Over Russian Nord Stream Pipeline

He added anyone arguing for an end to the pipeline project in response to the poisoning “must be aware of the consequences,” and that focusing the discussion solely on the Nord Stream 2 project doesn’t do justice to the case. “When we’re thinking about sanctions, these should be as targeted as possible,” he said.

Later in the day, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who is also the head of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, drew a similar link between Russian cooperation and the gas pipeline in comments to Reuters on Sunday. Asked whether Germany is now ready to sanction the project, she said “what happens now depends on the behavior of the Russian side.”

Some top opposition lawmakers have demanded the project be halted, and NATO this week condemned Moscow for the “appalling” attempted assassination of Navalny. However, there is still little appetite within Merkel’s coalition to abandon Nord Stream.

On Friday, Bloomberg reported that neither Merkel’s Christian Democratic-led bloc nor her Social Democratic partner is likely to rally around the demand, according to three Bundestag officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. The resistance reflects key support for the project from German industry as well as deeper ties with Russia, particularly among the Social Democrats.

Pressure Mounts

Global pressure on Russia is building as well. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC Sunday that Russia has a “case to answer” over the alleged poisoning given its “track record,” and that while it’s too early to attribute blame, “it’s very difficult to come up with a plausible alternative explanation” other than Russia’s involvement.

Russia has been linked to two different poisonings carried out in the U.K., with novichok suspected in the attempted murder in 2018 of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil.

Raab called for an investigation into the Navalny case via the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, calling the use of chemical weapons “pure gangsterism.”


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