BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her economy minister on Tuesday played down the possibility of halting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany as part of any sanctions imposed on Moscow due to the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Germany is consulting European and NATO partners on how to respond if Russia fails to help clear up what happened to Navalny, being treated in a Berlin hospital for what Merkel has said was a murder attempt with a Novichok nerve agent.
One big area of discussion is the future of Nord Stream 2 which will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany and is due to start operation next year. It is more than 90% complete.
At a meeting of her conservative parliamentary group, Merkel reiterated her call for an EU response to the attack on Navalny but took a cautious line on the pipeline, said participants.
She told lawmakers she could hear that some people were talking about Nord Stream 2 in the context of an EU response but also said that opinion was divided. At the EU level many would not explicitly make a connection between the Navalny case and stopping the pipeline, she said, according to participants.
On Monday, her spokesman had said she did not rule out imposing sanctions.
Conservative parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkhaus also struck a cautious note on stopping the pipeline, said sources.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier kept open the possibility of future sanctions but said late on Monday that keeping lines of communication open was often more effective as sanctions could result in a hardening of politics.
“I don’t know of any case where a country like Russia, or a similar country, has been moved by sanctions to change its behaviour.”
The head of the German Eastern Business Association said it would be almost impossible to halt the project from a legal perspective.
(Reporting by Michelle Adair, Caroline Copley, Andreas Rinke; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Scot W. Stevenson, William Maclean)