Monday

9th Dec 2019

Germany still backs new Russia gas pipeline

  • Merkel's new coalition expected to press ahead with Nord Stream 2 (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

The latest Russia-Ukraine gas dispute has not dampened Germany's enthusiasm to build a new pipeline from Russia.

The pipeline, Nord Stream 2, was a "purely commercial project", Steffen Seibert, chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, said in Berlin on Monday (5 March), according to the Reuters news agency.

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  • Ukraine's Poroshenko (l): 'Times of Russia's gas blackmail over' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

He urged Russia not to use Nord Stream 2 to cut off Ukraine in future.

It was "in the interest of Germany and Europe that Ukraine continues to play a role as a transit country for Russian gas," he said.

He also criticised Russia's handling of the gas dispute, saying it had "caused irritation" in Berlin, Brussels, and further afield.

Seibert spoke after Russia, last week, refused to sell gas to Ukraine in a commercial disagreement, recalling the winter of 2009, when some EU states who imported Russian gas via Ukraine faced blackouts.

The situation, nine years down the line, has changed.

Russia has invaded south and east Ukraine, where it continues to wage low-intensity war.

But Ukraine and EU states have built infrastructure to share Russian gas shipped to the EU via Germany and Poland, making it harder for Russia to exert pressure on Ukraine.

"Shipments from the EU, from Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary have increased ... the shortfall is covered in full," Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday.

"The times of Russia's gas blackmail are over," he added.

Russia's energy minister, Alexander Novak, also told EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic on Monday that "transit of gas to EU member states [via Ukraine] is not endangered".

He said the dispute could "take some time, [but] will not have immediate consequences on [EU] gas flows".

The situation arose after Russia refused to pay Ukraine a €2bn gas trade award granted by an arbitration tribunal in Stockholm.

It is unlikely to get out of hand, Stefan Meister, an expert at German think tank DGAP told EUobserver, because Russian leader Vladimir Putin had little to gain from escalation.

"They [the Russians] are finally earning money with the higher gas prices and the cold winter, which they really need. There are [Russian] elections and then the World soccer championship [in Russia] coming up. Putin doesn't need a substantial crisis with the EU at the moment," Meister said.

Critics of Nord Stream 2 have said that, if built, it would enable Russia to blackmail Ukraine and eastern EU states once again by concentrating supplies in one route to Germany.

"Gazprom … is not a gas company but a platform for Russian coercion. How much more evidence do German politicians need to cancel Nord Stream 2?," Anders Fogh Rsmussen, a Danish politician who used to be head of Nato and who now works as a consultant for Ukraine, said on Saturday.

DGAP's Meister said the latest Ukraine dispute would end up damaging confidence more in Ukraine than in Russia, no matter who was right, however.

"Everything stands for building Nord Stream 2, and the new/old Groko will support it," he said, referring to the new government coalition in Berlin.

"The situation in Ukraine will strengthen those groups [in Germany] who support Nord Stream 2 and Russia will use the argument that Ukraine made and makes problems and that we need Nord Stream 2," he said.

US warns on flare-up in Ukraine 'crisis'

Fighting in Ukraine escalated to "hellish" levels not seen since February amid warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe in the run-up to Christmas.

US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Washington would still like to block a planned gas pipeline between Russia and Germany but is not yet considering hitting companies involved in the project.

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