German foreign minister raises spectre of Nord Stream 2 sanctions over Navalny poisoning
Germany could drop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as punishment for the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Berlin said for the first time on Sunday as it threatened the Kremlin with sanctions. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “I hope… that the Russians do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream,” in comments made to Bild newspaper. Mr Maas said that Berlin “would be compelled” to raise the issue of sanctions with its allies if Russia did not take steps towards investigating Mr Navalny’s poisoning in the coming days. “ If the Russians don’t take part in solving the case then it is a further indication that they were involved,” Mr Maas said. “If they don’t go beyond smoke and mirrors we’ll have to assume that Russia has something to hide.” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that “The use of chemical weapons in this kind of context is pure gangsterism and Russia does have responsibility never to use it as a government, and second of all to make sure no-one else can use it within its territory.” Nord Stream 2 is a new pipeline that would allow more Russian gas to flow to Europe via Germany, and is of strategic importance to Russia. But cancelling the project would be an ultima ratio for Germany, given its own financial interest in seeing the project through. There is little over 100 kilometres of the multi-billion euro pipeline still to be laid, but nothing has happened on the project since the US – which is opposed to it – threatened the companies involved with severe sanctions last December. And since a German army laboratory confirmed on Wednesday that Mr Navalny had been the victim of an assassination attempt with the nerve gas Novichok, domestic pressure has grown on the German government to cancel the gas line. Even within the ruling Christian Democratic Union party, influential foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen said that ”if the project were to be completed that would give Putin the ultimate proof that he can carry on with his politics as normal. A European decision should be: stop Nord Stream 2.” Mr Maas made clear though that he wanted to avoid hitting the gas line if at all possible. “Those calling for a stop need to know what the consequences are,” he said. “There are more than 100 companies from 12 European countries involved, and roughly half of them are German.” There are also indications that Chancellor Angela Merkel has shifted her stance after saying last week that the pipeline should remain “decoupled” from Navalny. The statement came in for criticism from sections of the media. Asked at Friday’s press conference if she would repeat the statement, her spokesman, Stefan Seibert, declined to comment. Mr Navalny is currently lying in an artificially induced coma in Berlin’s Charité hospital. Doctors say that his condition is improving but that he will have a long road to recovery.