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BERLIN / PARIS, Feb. 5 (Reuters) – Germany remains supportive of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline “for the time being,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday after condemning the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Sweden, Germany and Poland.
Russia previously announced the expulsion, accusing diplomats of taking part in illegal protests last month against the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Merkel condemned the expulsion as “unjustified” and Moscow’s next move away from the rule of law.
A German government official said the Foreign Ministry had summoned the Russian ambassador “for an urgent meeting and made Germany’s position very clear to him.”
After speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel told reporters: “With regard to events in Russia, we have said that we have the right to continue with sanctions, especially against individuals.”
“The position on Nord Stream 2 is not affected by this at the moment; this is a project where you find out where the federal government is, “Merkel said.
It is a “diplomatic duty” to keep the channels of communication open with Europe’s giant eastern neighbors, he added.
The German position is that Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project. However, Merkel expanded her description of the pipe, which she said she discussed openly with Macron.
“On the one hand, this is a commercial project, on the other hand, it has political implications and plays a big role in the transatlantic region,” said Merkel.
Washington has long argued that the pipeline would increase Russia’s influence over Europe. The new US President Joe Biden believes it is a “bad deal for Europe”.
Navalny’s poisoning and imprisonment have pushed Nord Stream 2 to the top of Germany’s political agenda, creating serious problems for Merkel’s successor following the country’s September elections.
The pioneer to replace Merkel, the new leader of Christian Democrats Armin Laschet, firmly supports Nord Stream 2 but her future government partner, ecologist Greens, is against it.
Macron said he “very harshly” condemned Moscow’s behavior towards Navalny from his poisoning to his arrest and expulsion of foreign diplomats.
On Nord Stream 2, he said: “We have set a European course and I will stick with it. Nothing can be done without close Franco-German cooperation. We want to implement a more sovereign energy transition and a more demanding discussion with Russia ”.
The $ 11 billion pipeline, 90% complete, will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream line to deliver gas from Russia to Europe via Germany under the Baltic Sea.
Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel in Berlin, and by Dominique Vidalon in Paris. Edited by Jane Merriman