The Russian-led Nord Stream 2 offshore gas pipeline project shouldn’t be tied to the case of opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who was sentenced to jail for violating his probation, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said.
His comment reinforces the earlier statement by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said her government supported the commercial project aimed at bringing more Russian gas to the European market.
“I welcome the German federal government’s decision to stand [up] for Nord Stream 2,” Kurz said in an interview with the German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
On Friday, Chancellor Merkel said Germany reserved the right to broaden its sanctions against Russia in light of recent developments, but stressed that Europe and Russia should maintain their dialogue, due to “strategic necessity.” She added that Germany’s stand on Nord Stream 2 issue would remain unchanged.
According to Kurz, Nord Stream 2 is a European project that serves the interests of a wide range of members of the European Union.
“I don’t see the necessity to tie the reaction to actions against oppositionist Navalny with the construction of Nord Stream 2,” he told the newspaper. “Those who believes that the new pipeline serves the interests of Russia alone are wrong.”
The Chancellor added that Germany, Austria, and a number of other European countries will benefit from the pipeline that, on the whole, represents “a very positive project.”
Kurz urged the EU leaders to maintain a dialogue with Russia, despite the gap in opinions on some issues between the two parties. At the same time, the Austrian chancellor called for the release of Navalny, calling the sentence against him “unacceptable.”
Earlier this month, a Moscow court ruled that Navalny had failed to regularly report to the Federal Penitentiary Service. The suspended judgment, ruled in 2014, was converted into an almost three-year prison sentence, as Navalny’s excuse for non-appearance was deemed insufficient. Six years ago, the opposition activist was found guilty of embezzling 30 million rubles ($400,000) from two companies, including the French cosmetics brand Yves Rocher, in a case he claims was politically motivated.
The pipeline is being constructed by Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream 2 AG in close cooperation with several major European energy companies. The gas route, which runs under the Baltic Sea, is set to double the existing pipeline’s capacity of 55 billion cubic meters annually via two 1.2km lines. The pipeline goes to Germany via the maritime territories of Russia, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.
The project has been repeatedly bashed by Washington, which has warned the European Union about alleged over-reliance on Russian energy supplies, while accusing Moscow of monopolizing the European energy market. The White House is persistently trying to squeeze Nord Stream 2 by imposing penalties against the companies engaged in it. These drastic measures are reportedly aimed at boosting the sales of American liquified natural gas to Europe instead. The US sanctions have already forced several of Gazprom’s contractors to leave the project.
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