The world's most controversial pipeline project Nord Stream 2, which aims to bring Russian natural gas to northern Europe through the Baltic Sea, again came into the spotlight last week after senior members of German opposition party called on German chancellor Angela Merkel to abandon the joint German-Russian pipeline over the poisoning of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
Commenting on intense pressure from a number of German politicians to scrap the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Leuven urged them to comply with international law.
The twin pipeline runs through a 510-kilometer stretch of the Swedish economic zone in the Baltic Sea. In 2018, the underwater Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline got a green light from Sweden.
"We have already made all decisions regarding the issuance of a permit for (construction of) Nord Stream 2," Leuven said on Saturday in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reported TASS. "It is very important for us that international law is respected."
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who has become famous as one of the Russian president's most vocal critics in Russia, is currently in a coma in a Berlin hospital. The German chancellor revealed that testing by a special military laboratory had shown "unequivocal" proof that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok, a nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union and Russia. Soon after that, the German Green party called on the chancellor to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to press the Kremlin to address allegations over what Merkel called the "silencing" of Navalny. Although Merkel demanded answers from Moscow, she has also shown little sign of wavering in her support for Nord Stream 2.
"It was an assassination attempt, which we condemn in the strongest possible terms," added Leuven. "It was an attempt to silence the opposition in Russia."
At the same time, the Swedish prime minister pointed out that since the incident happened on Russian territory, Russia must carry "thorough and transparent investigation" over the poisoning incident and punish those responsible.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow on August 20. He was treated in Russia for two days before being airlifted to Germany, where he remains in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that medical professionals at the Omsk hospital, where Russian blogger Alexei Navalny was originally taken, tested the patient for poisonous substances and didn't find any in his body.
The Kremlin sees no reason to accuse Russia of poisoning Navalny and impose new sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 project.
"I’d speak carefully about accusing the Russian state. After all, there are no charges and there’s no reason to accuse the Russian state," Interfax quoted Peskov as saying on Thursday. "We certainly wouldn’t want our partners in Germany and other European countries to rush to any judgments, we would prefer to be in dialogue."
The 1,200-kilometer long Nord Stream 2 is designed to deliver additional 55 billion cubic meters (or 2 trillion cubic feet) of Russian natural gas per year to Europe through the Baltic Sea and bypass overland routes crossing through Ukraine and Poland. Although Nord Stream-2 is designed to meet Europe’s ever-growing demand for energy resources, the project has faced fierce opposition from critics who claim it will increase Europe's dependency on Russia for energy exports.
Given the strategic importance of the Gazprom-owned pipeline, US President Donald Trump has lobbied against the nearly completed infrastructure project, pushing officials in Europe to abandon the project and instead purchase American liquefied natural gas as an alternative. Last December, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 targeting companies related to the Nord Stream-2, prompting the Swiss company Allseas, which operates ships laying sections of Nord Stream 2 in the Baltic Sea, to suspend activities for the $11 billion project. Nevertheless, Russia has vowed to complete the remaining 160 kilometers of the pipeline by using the Russian ship Akademik Tscherski, which belongs to Gazprom.
Meanwhile, Oliver Hermes, the head of the Eastern Committee of the German Economy, believes that the suspension of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will cost some European companies billions of euros.
"We must not let this incident become a long-term burden for our bilateral relations and thus harm the German-Russian business contacts," TASS quoted Hermes as saying in a statement published Thursday, welcoming Merkel’s refusal to tie the incident with the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. "We consider it a mistake to react to Navalny’s poisoning by new economic sanctions that will later affect completely uninvolved companies and the people of Russia."
The name Novichok last made news in 2018, when Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked in the city of Salisbury in the UK. The British government immediately pointed the finger at Russia, accusing the Kremlin of the attempted murder. Moscow denied all accusations, and diplomatic relations between the UK and Russia, as well as allied western governments and Russia, suffered as a result of the incident.