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German divisions on Nord Stream 2 laid bare as regional leader rejects calls to halt project

Highlights

Navalny poisoning should not be used to halt pipeline: state governor

EU lawmaker says 'different views' across German political spectrum

Foreign minister warns Russia over Nord Stream 2 position

London — German politicians are divided on whether action on the almost complete Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline should be considered in response to the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

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Manuela Schwesig, the governor of the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, home to the landing points for both the existing Nord Stream pipeline and Nord Stream 2, said Sept. 8 that the Navalny case should not be used to threaten the pipeline project.

It follows comments by Schwesig's fellow Social Democrat, German foreign minister Heiko Maas, at the weekend -- supported by Chancellor Angela Merkel -- that he hoped the Russians would not force Germany to change its position on Nord Stream 2.

The 55 Bcm/year pipeline is crucial to Russia's plans to scale down from 2021 the use of the Ukrainian transit corridor in its gas supplies to Europe.

"Stopping the pipeline would not only hurt Russia, but Germany too," Schwesig said in an interview with Der Spiegel.

"We need the pipeline for Germany's energy supply. And German companies have participated in its construction," she said.

Schwesig said she agreed that Russia had to explain the poisoning, but said the crime "should not be used to challenge Nord Stream 2."

"Those demanding the pipeline be halted now have always been against the project," she said.

"Even before the Navalny case, there were attempts by the US to halt Nord Stream 2. Workers at our Mukran port are unsettled because US senators threatened them with sanctions. Germany must be able to decide from where and by which route it gets its energy," she said.

In August, three US senators sent a letter to two senior officials at the port, saying the facility was "knowingly" providing support to Nord Stream 2 and that this could expose the port to US sanctions.

'Different views'

German member of the European Parliament David McAllister said Sept. 8 there was a "lively debate" on Nord Stream 2 within Germany, with varying views across the political spectrum.

Speaking on BBC radio, McAllister, a member of Merkel's CDU party, said the German government was working on measures to "counteract this Russian behavior."

He said they were considering additional measures against Moscow and that "everything is on the table."

But, he said, "what I'm noticing is that the different views go right through all the political parties," adding that the economic consequences of halting the pipeline would be "huge."

McAllister said the European Parliament had in the past shown its "skepticism" toward Nord Stream 2 and that the geopolitical dimension of the project had not been considered carefully enough.

In Russia, meanwhile, the government appeared to be unconcerned by the rising tide of opposition to Nord Stream 2 within Germany.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sept. 7 that it was monitoring statements out of the country.

"So far we see that for each such new statement [against Nord Stream 2], two statements appear that speak of the absurdity of such proposals," Peskov was quoted as saying by Tass news agency.

Asked if the Kremlin saw any risk of Nord Stream 2 being blocked, Peskov said: "No."

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 160 km (99 miles) of the pipeline in Danish waters.