London — Germany has raised the stakes further regarding its position on the almost complete Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia following the poisoning of Russian politician Alexei Navalny.
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German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned Sept. 6 that its support for the 55 Bcm a year project was not unconditional.
"I hope that the Russians will not force us to change our stance on Nord Stream 2," Maas said in an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, a transcript of which was posted on the foreign ministry website.
"If Russia does not help clarify what happened in the coming days, we will be forced to discuss a response with our allies," Maas said.
The German government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel has up to now supported Nord Stream 2, which is almost complete with just 160 km of the line left to lay in Danish waters.
As recently as July, Merkel said it was "right" to complete Nord Stream 2 despite the threat of US sanctions against the project.
However, German media cited government spokesman Steffen Seibert as saying in Berlin Sept. 7 that Merkel "agreed" with the foreign minister's remarks at the weekend.
Maas said any action over Nord Stream 2 would, however, have to take into account the economic "consequences" that it would cause.
"More than 100 companies from 12 European countries are involved in Nord Stream 2, around half of them from Germany," he said.
He added that the attempted murder of Navalny was a "brutal crime" and that narrowing the debate to just Nord Stream 2 did not do the case justice.
"In the end, it will depend on what answers Moscow provides. One thing is clear: when we think about sanctions, they should be as targeted as possible," he said.
Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee and a candidate for the leadership of Merkel's CDU party, said last week the EU should consider a strong, coordinated response against Russia.
"Stopping Nord Stream 2 would be such a measure," Roettgen said on his official Twitter account.
The leader of the German green party, Katrin Goering-Eckardt, also condemned the poisoning, saying it needed to have "real consequences."
One such action would be to make clear that "Nord Stream 2 is not something that we can drive forward together with Russia."
Nord Stream 2 would double the capacity of the gas corridor via the Baltic Sea to Germany to 110 Bcm/year and would reduce the need for Russia to use Ukraine as a transit country for gas supply to Europe.
Critics of the project say it would concentrate too much gas supply into Europe on one route and one source.
However, backers of the projects -- which include five European energy companies (Shell, OMV, Engie, Uniper and Wintershall Dea) -- say Nord Stream 2 is needed to bring additional gas supply security to Europe.
It remains unclear when and how the Nord Stream 2 operating company will lay the final kilometers of the pipeline in Danish waters.
The US in December last year implemented legislation that threatens sanctions against any entity laying Nord Stream 2 pipe, which prompted Switzerland's Allseas to immediately halt its pipe laying work.
Expanded sanctions against the project are also now under consideration that would target more companies involved in laying the line's final segment, including service providers and insurers.
Uniper said in August that with the US intensifying its efforts on targeted sanctions against Nord Stream 2, "the probability of a delay or even non-completion of the pipeline is increasing."
The EU's position with regard to Nord Stream 2, meanwhile, is complex, with Brussels objecting to US extra-territorial sanctions against the project on one hand but also forcing the pipeline to adhere to amended EU gas directive rules on the other.
Germany, Austria and France have also condemned the US measures, saying Europe should dictate its own energy policy.
An EU delegation reportedly communicated its position to the US State Department on Aug. 12, supported by 24 of the bloc's 27 members, that the sanctions are in breach of international law.
--Stuart Elliott, Stuart.Elliott@spglobal.com
--Edited by Jonathan Dart, email@example.com