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25th Jul 2021

MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest

  • The Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany is almost complete (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

German Green MEPs led calls to halt Russia's 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipeline over Alexei Navalny's arrest, while others urged the EU to invoke its new 'Magnitsky Act' against Russian oligarchs on Tuesday (19 January).

Germany ought to scrap the "shameful" pipeline with Russia, German Green Sergey Lagodinsky told fellow MEPs and EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell at the European Parliament (EP) hearing.

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  • Alexei Navalny is being held in the same prison where Sergei Magnitsky died (Photo: Michał Siergiejevicz)

"Nord Stream 2 must be stopped immediately," fellow German Green Viola Von Cramon-Traubadel added, speaking two days after Russia arrested Navalny, following his return to Moscow after being poisoned by a chemical weapon called Novichok.

Belgian, Dutch, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Spanish MEPs echoed their call.

"We must stop Nord Stream 2. Let's stop financing Novichok," Lithuanian conservative Rasa Juknevičienė said.

"Anyone who still thinks we should continue with Nord Stream 2 is blind to the kind of regime we're dealing with in Moscow," Dutch socialist Kati Piri added.

The EU should also use its recently created human-rights sanctions, known informally as Europe's 'Magnitsky Act', after Sergei Magnitsky, a late Russian anti-corruption activist, several MEPs said.

For her part, Portuguese socialist Isabel Santos noted that Navalny was being held in the same prison, the 'Matrosskaya Tishina' facility in Moscow, where Magnitsky died in 2009.

"We shouldn't hesitate to use this tool [the Magnitsky Act]," German conservative David Macallister said.

The EU asset-freezes and visa-bans should target the judges and prosecutors behind Navalny's arrest, Michael Gahler, a fellow German conservative said.

They should also target Russian oligarchs who "scorn human rights", then go skiing in Courchevel or buy luxury homes in the Côte d'Azur in France, a Belgian centre-right MEP, Benoît Lutgen, added.

For his part, Borrell noted that EU institutions had long-opposed Nord Stream 2 on grounds it would make Europe more dependent on Russian gas, but had no legal power to stop it if Berlin wanted to go ahead.

He also said he would wait for EU foreign ministers, meeting next week, to tell him what they wanted before drafting new blacklists.

Under the EU treaty, Borrell has the power to propose names himself, but never does so unless first invited by capitals.

"If he went ahead, then member states blocked him, he'd look a bit silly," an EU source said.

Just two MEPs - the far-right Thierry Mariani of France and Marco Zanni of Italy - argued against new Russia sanctions on Tuesday.

"Is Russia a danger to Paris or Berlin?," Mariani asked.

And the EU was applying double standards by going after Russia while recently signing an investment deal with China, which had an even worse human rights record, Zanni said.

But they were shamed for "hypocrisy" by Belgian liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt for being in Moscow's pay.

"Half the ID group have links with Russia," Verhofstadt said, referring to the anti-EU Independence and Democracy (ID) group in the EP and to old media revelations that Zanni's Lega Nord and Mariani's National Rally parties had taken Russian money.

Hypocrisy?

Meanwhile, the anti-Nord Stream 2 chorus did not include any members of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union party, such as Macallister, indicating that the German government also had no intention to forgo the €10bn Russian project for Navalny's sake.

Germany and France, on Monday, blocked any reference to new sanctions in an EU statement on the Navalny case, EU sources said.

And Borrell himself seemed annoyed when one MEP needled him over his plan to go to Russia on 4 February, in a sign of how EU institutions' turf battles impinged on foreign relations.

"Is your planned visit to Moscow next month still on the agenda and, if so, will it be made conditional on a meeting with Alexei Navalny?", Lithuanian liberal Petras Austrevicius asked.

But the EP has no legal power over Borrell's decisions, in a situation highlighted in his retort.

His job was to "maintain open channels of communication with Russia", Borrell said.

"And I'll keep doing so by ways and means that I consider appropriate," he said.

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