Germany will put an immediate halt to the certification of the Russian-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced, after Moscow recognized the two breakaway Donbass regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Scholz said the green light cannot be given for the pipeline to begin pumping supplies in the light of the current standoff between Russia and Ukraine.
“Given Russia’s latest action” the certification “cannot go ahead,” Scholz told reporters. “This is now about taking concrete steps relating to the situation that we have seen now.”
Just hours before, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky called on Europe to suspend the gas pipeline “immediately” after Moscow signed a deal recognizing the two breakaway Donbass Republics in Donetsk and Lugansk.
Construction on the pipeline, which is intended to link the gas fields of Siberia to consumers in Western Europe via a port in Northern Germany, was completed last year. However, it has been waiting for approval from Berlin’s regulators to begin operations.
Last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal said that the delays to its approval were down to Kiev’s lobbying efforts. “Today, we are successfully blocking the Russian hybrid gas weapon Nord Stream 2 and will continue to do so,” he claimed.
Ukrainian officials have consistently opposed construction of the pipeline, which would see supplies transported under the Baltic Sea instead of solely through the country’s overland network of Soviet-built pipes. Kiev has said the project amounts to an effort to undermine European energy security, and warned it stands to lose billions of dollars in transit fees if Moscow were to turn off the taps.
Washington has previously said Nord Stream is a “threat” and imposed sanctions on companies involved in the construction. However, Germany had continued to support the project despite objections from Ukraine, the US and other nations, including Poland and the Baltic States.
The day before Scholz’s announcement, Putin held a televised national address in which he said “I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago” to “immediately” recognize both as sovereign states. The move, he said, was in response to years of fighting in Ukraine’s war-torn east and to Kiev’s attempts to “drag foreign states into conflict with our country” with its efforts to join NATO.
Leaders of the breakaway republics and officials in Kiev have accused each other of carrying out heavy shelling along the contact line for several days. Last week, Donetsk and Lugansk announced that they had begun evacuating civilians to Russia, amid what they claim is a sharp spike in hostilities, and have ordered the mobilization of all able-bodied men to be ready to fight in a potential conflict.
Ukraine rejects claims it is preparing to attack, with Aleksey Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, claiming that “there is an attempt to provoke our forces,” and that Kiev’s troops “can only open fire if there will be a threat to the lives of our service members.”