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France calls for Nord Stream 2 to be halted as Navalny protests continue


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London — The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany should be abandoned, a senior French government official said Feb. 1, given Moscow's stance toward opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his supporters.

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Clement Beaune, France's secretary of state for European affairs, said on French radio that sanctions taken against Russia to date had not gone far enough.

Asked by France Inter whether he was in favor of Nord Stream 2 being halted as one option, Beaune said: "We've said that -- yes."

Navalny was arrested on his return to Moscow from Berlin on Jan. 17, prompting mass protests across Russia. On Jan. 31, more than 5,000 protestors were reportedly detained across 90 cities.

"We have always said we have the biggest doubts about the [Nord Stream 2] project in this context," Beaune said, referring to the poisoning in August of Navalny, his subsequent arrest and the handling of pro-Navalny protests.

Sanctions have not gone far enough, Beaune said, adding that EU measures against Nord Stream 2 were "an option being looked at."

France's Engie is one of five European energy companies that have lent financial support to Nord Stream 2, which remains incomplete with some 150 km left to lay in Danish and German waters.

German decision

The Fortuna laybarge is now at the site of the pipeline to the south of the Danish island of Bornholm, either carrying out pipelaying or preparing to resume work.

Ultimately, Beaune said, a decision on the fate of Nord Stream 2 was for Germany given that the pipeline lands there.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly backed the project and has resisted calls to cancel it following the poisoning of Navalny and his arrest last month.

Speaking in Berlin Jan. 21, Merkel said her position on the project was unchanged.

According to a transcript of remarks from a press conference, Merkel said she would discuss the project with the administration of new US President Joe Biden.

"We need to talk about which gas business relations with Russia are acceptable and which are not," Merkel said. "But my basic attitude has not yet changed to the point where I say: 'the project should not happen'," she said.

Russia says Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project and should not be used for political point-scoring.

Russian legal action

Moscow, meanwhile, is considering legal action if required to help get Nord Stream 2 over the finishing line.

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia's Security Council, was cited Feb. 1 by the Tass news agency as saying Moscow could file a lawsuit over the obstacles other countries had imposed.

"If there are reasons for this, it goes without saying the issue may be taken to court," Medvedev was quoted as saying. "But I believe that the stance taken by the leaders of states and business leaders is far more important. They are to have their say."

A little more than 150 km of Nord Stream 2 remains to be laid in Danish and German waters, but the threat of US sanctions against companies involved in laying the pipeline has led to long delays in its completion.

The White House said on Jan. 26 that Biden's position toward the controversial pipeline had not changed and that he "continues to believe that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe."

Russian President Vladimir Putin in late December 2020 said he hoped the new US administration would treat its partners "with respect" and not impede the completion of the pipeline, allowing a return to "fair competition in international markets."

The US Senate on Jan. 1 voted to override former President Donald Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, which include new provisions related to Nord Stream 2 under the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Clarification Act.

These expand the threat of US sanctions against companies that provide services to ships laying the Nord Stream 2 pipe and companies that carry out pipeline testing, inspection or certification activities.

In one of its final actions, the former US administration on Jan. 19 also imposed sanctions on Russia-based KVT-RUS, owner of the Fortuna pipelaying ship, because of its role in the Nord Stream 2 project under the separate Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

If completed, the 55 Bcm/year Nord Stream 2 pipeline would reduce the need for Gazprom to use Ukraine as a transit route for gas supplies to Europe, which Kyiv relies on for state revenues.