The alleged poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny could see Berlin cancel the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, and press the EU to consider other sanctions against Moscow, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said.
In an interview published on Sunday by Bild, a popular pro-American Berlin tabloid, Maas said: “I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our stance on Nord Stream 2, we have high expectations of the Russian government that it will solve this serious crime.”
The German diplomat claimed to have seen “a lot of evidence” that the Russian state was behind the poison attack. “The deadly chemical weapon with which Navalny was poisoned was in the past in the possession of Russian authorities,” he insisted. “Novichok is only accessible to a very small group of people,”
He conceded that stopping the almost-completed pipeline would also harm German and broader European business interests, pointing out that the gas pipeline’s construction involves “over 100 companies from 12 European countries, and about half of them come from Germany.”
The minister also threatened the Kremlin with broader EU sanctions if it doesn’t help to clarify what happened “in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, Moscow says it’s ready to cooperate with Berlin in relation to the situation with Navalny. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Rossiya-24 TV channel on Sunday that she believes it’s actually the Germans who are dragging their feet, having failed to provide any evidence of poisoning.
“Berlin should show operational efficiency,” Zakharova said. “We are ready for cooperation with the German side, 24 hours per day.”
“We are trying to encourage Berlin to give a swift response to the respective requests,” she added. “We hear calls from partners in NATO for an international investigation, for turning to an international organization, but even regardless of this, if this is an investigation, it should be carried out within the legal framework – and this is the way we are going.”
Zakharova also noted that there had been no response to Moscow’s requests so far. “If Berlin needs operational efficiency, it is the German side that needs to show this operational efficiency,” she said.
Maas responded to Moscow’s call by saying the German government has granted the necessary approvals for the Russian legal cooperation request “quite some time ago,” calling Zakharov’s complaints a “smokescreen.”
However, he admitted that the information relevant to the case has not been passed to the Russian side as “investigations are still ongoing” at Berlin’s Charite clinic where Navalny is being treated. He repeated his call on Moscow to investigate the incident with Navalny. “It has not been done up to now,” the minister said.
Maas also stressed that the use of a chemical warfare agent constitutes a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. “This not the matter of Germany only, it a matter of the international community,” he explained. “That is why we discussed this matter with our EU and NATO partners and will soon discuss with the European partners which reaction is to follow and its possible impacts.”
The leaders of the Germany’s opposition Alliance 90/The Green Party have demanded that the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline be stopped. The Free Democratic Party suggested that a temporary moratorium be imposed on construction works until things are sorted out. However, Chairman of the Bundestag Committee on Economic Affairs and Energy Klaus Ernst believes there is no need to suspend the project.
On Saturday, dozens of EU MEPs circulated a letter calling for a halt to Nord Stream 2. One of the signatories, Anna Fotyga – a former Polish foreign minister – tweeted: “We don’t want to allow Russia to benefit from the proceeds of energy export to the EU in order to finance its aggressive policies.”
If the EU wanted to hurt Russia financially, it could stop buying Russian gas. But that would push up prices dramatically & quite likely cause many Europeans to freeze in winter. Russia would suffer but could just export more to Asia (mainly China) in the long run.
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) September 5, 2020
However, Fotyga’s statement has little basis in fact. Stopping Nord Stream 2 would not actually decrease Russia’s gas sales income, nor would it reduce EU dependency on Russian energy. In practice, the new pipeline just means Poland & Ukraine will get less money for transit fees. The benefit to Germany is separating supplies from often volatile political situation in Eastern Europe.
Navalny was hospitalized in Omsk on August 20 after his health deteriorated rapidly during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. He was placed in an induced coma and put on a ventilator. Later, he was airlifted to the Charite hospital in Germany.
On Wednesday, the German government said that its military toxicologists had found evidence of a Novichok-class nerve agent in his system. Berlin called on Moscow to explain the incident and promised to inform the Russian ambassador of the opposition figure’s test results.
German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that Berlin would notify the EU, NATO and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the latest information in Navalny’s case and would “discuss an appropriate joint response with the partners in light of the Russian response.” However, he did not elaborate on what steps could be taken.
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