31st Mar 2023

Nord Stream 2 overshadows EU leaders' Ukraine trip

  • The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is almost complete (Photo:
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Russia's new "weapon" in its war on Ukraine, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, has cast a shadow over an EU show of solidarity with Kyiv.

Some 11 EU countries, including Finland, Poland, Romania, and Sweden were sending presidents or prime minsters to Ukraine's 'Crimea Platform' summit in the Ukrainian capital on Monday (23 August) and Tuesday.

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Foreign ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Spain, among other EU states, were also going, along with EU Council president Charles Michel.

The event was meant to be a Western show of solidarity for ending Russia's occupation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014.

But France, Germany, and Italy disappointed Ukraine by downgrading their delegations from foreign minister to lower-level officials at the last minute.

According to EUobserver's sources, the decision prompted speculation in Kyiv that German chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to do so after speaking with Russian president Vladimir Putin, in talks which also covered Russia's support in a potential Afghan refugee crisis.

And the Crimea Platform event was, in any case, overshadowed by Germany and Russia's imminent completion of a gas pipeline described as a "dangerous weapon" by Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday.

"We view this project [Nord Stream 2] exclusively through the prism of security and consider it a ... geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin," he said after meeting Merkel in Kyiv the same day.

"This is a dangerous weapon, not only for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe," Zelensky added.

The pipeline is to concentrate Russia's EU gas exports via Germany, enabling Putin to cut off Ukraine's transit system in future.

It would also help him to cut off Poland and other eastern EU countries, prompting wider strategic concern among Nato allies.

For her part, Merkel promised that Berlin would push for further EU penalties on Russia if it ever did so.

Germany would "advocate further sanctions in the European framework if this suspicion is substantiated that the pipeline is used as a weapon," she said in Kyiv.

These commitments were "binding on future German governments," she noted, speaking on her last visit before stepping down as chancellor in September.

"We feel a special responsibility" and "understand the big concerns that president Zelensky expressed ... We take them very seriously," Merkel said.

Germany would also work to revive summits in the so-called 'Normandy Format' - Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany - to talk about Russian aggression in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, Merkel added.

The last Normandy summit took place in late 2019 and Merkel noted the talks were "going in circles" because of Putin's refusal to admit Russia had invaded and occupied Donbas.

"Russia is directly involved in this conflict," Merkel said in Kyiv.

"However, one has to say again and again: At present, we have no other format in which we can discuss these things," Merkel said.

Putin talks

Merkel had also met Putin in Russia on Friday.

"Together we tried to find possibilities to restore peace in Donbas. Regrettably, it has not yet been achieved," Putin said afterward.

He blamed Kyiv for alleged ceasefire violations in a sign of the Kremin's hard line.

"Populated localities in Donbas come under shelling every day," he claimed.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the Crimea Platform summit would see the West "continue to groom the neo-Nazi and racist sentiment of the current Ukrainian government".

And Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said it would harm relations with Russia for those EU leaders who went to Kyiv.

"Naturally, it will tell negatively [impact relations]. And those who are planning to take part are fully aware of it," Grushko said.

Macron's dialogue

Merkel apart, France's Macron also continued what he calls his Strategic Dialogue with Putin in a one and a half hour-long phone conversation last week.

They talked principally about Afghanistan, but Macron pledged "commitment to coordinate Russia and France's efforts in the Normandy Format", according to the French readout.

The two men agreed to "maintain personal contact", the Kremlin said.

But Putin described his war in Donbas, which has killed 14,000 people, as an "internal Ukrainian crisis".

And he accused Kyiv of "destructive actions" in the peace process.


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