Merkel Demands Gas Must Flow Through Ukraine After Pipeline
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe will do everything in its power to ensure that gas supplies continue to flow through Ukraine even after the construction of the disputed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia.
The promise was a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin not to use the almost-completed pipeline as a political weapon three days before the German leader holds talks with U.S. President Joe Biden, who has criticized the project.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make very clear that Nord Stream 2 is no replacement for the promised supply through Ukraine,” Merkel said in Berlin alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who called the infrastructure project a national security threat during a two-day visit.
Nord Stream 2 will be front and center during Merkel’s first meeting with Biden in Washington on Thursday. While the U.S. administration has suspended sanctions aimed at halting the construction of the pipeline, American officials are demanding Merkel take measures to keep Russia in check and guarantee gas transit through Ukraine.
The U.S. has joined European Union allies in decrying the 1,230-kilometer (760-mile) pipeline under the Baltic Sea. They see it as an instrument the Kremlin will wield to threaten EU security interests and throttle the Ukrainian economy by halting a gas lifeline to the former Soviet republic, as it has during disputes in the past. Ukraine is also locked in a seven-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists that has killed more than 13,000 people.
Merkel has stood by the project. She said a transit accord between Russia and Ukraine through 2024 must be observed, and that the EU “is not without power” to ensure a guarantee. Zelenskiy said there was little reason to trust Putin.
“We believe this is a large threat concealed behind the mask of an economic project,” the Ukrainian president said. “The launch of Nord Stream 2 contains a potential threat to security for the region.”
With the potential of bipartisan action from the U.S. Congress looming, German and American officials are working on a deal that could prioritize a threat of sanctions while shoring up Ukraine’s energy sector. Merkel said it was unlikely that a fleshed out agreement would be completed during talks with Biden.
The arrangement may entail a commitment to bolstering Ukrainian infrastructure as well as compensating for lost gas transit fees, a lifeline to the Ukrainian economy.
The pipeline could be completed by the end of next month, Nord Stream 2 Chief Executive Officer Matthias Warnig told Handelsblatt newspaper Sunday. With 98% of the pipeline already built, officials aim to begin operating it this year.
Zelenskiy floated the idea of tackling the gas issue as part of the four-way talks aimed at resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, known as the Normandy format. Merkel said those talks themselves are “already complicated enough,” but that gas could be discussed when the leaders meet.
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