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Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest

Work looks set to resume on the controversial NordStream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Germany despite a fresh protest from the United States on Saturday.

Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest
Unused pipeline at Mukran Port in north Germany. Photo: AFP

German shipping authorities have issued an advisory for the Baltic Sea area where the final few kilometres of the pipeline are set to be laid, warning vessels to avoid the zone from December 5-31.

Ship-tracking website Marinetraffic.com also shows Russian pipe-laying ships Fortuna and Akademik Cherskiy moving towards the area.

These indications coincided with a statement from the acting US ambassador to Germany calling on Berlin and the EU to halt construction of the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) pipeline, which is also opposed by many eastern European states.

“Now is the time for Germany and the EU to impose a moratorium on the construction of the pipeline,” acting ambassador Robin Quinville told business daily Handelsblatt.

This would send a signal to Russia that Europe was not willing to accept “its ongoing malicious behaviour”, the diplomat said.

“The pipeline is not only an economic project, but also a political tool that the Kremlin is using to bypass Ukraine and divide Europe.”

Many critics

Nord Stream 2 is a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline that will run beneath the Baltic Sea and is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe's largest economy.

It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, particularly by the Trump administration which has openly criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

Work has been suspended for nearly a year because of US sanctions signed off by Trump in late 2019 that threaten asset freezes and visa restrictions for companies involved in the construction work.

As well as Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake, the international consortium involved in the project includes European players such as Germany's Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British giant Shell, France's Engie and Austria's OMV.

Trump has said Germany is “a captive to Russia” because of its energy policy.

Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states are also fiercely opposed to the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy supplies, which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has face criticism in Germany for backing the project and there was speculation that she might withdraw support following the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

Navalny was treated in a Berlin hospital and German authorities concluded that he had been poisoned with a rare Novichok nerve agent developed by Russian authorities, plunging relations with the Kremlin to a new low.

In September when asked if the poisoning could affect Nordstream 2, Merkel's spokesman replied: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”

A Nordtream 1 pipeline, which runs along a similar route to Nordstream 2, was inaugurated in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Denmark hails new German doubts on Russian gas pipeline

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ENERGY

Sweden’s parties agree on goal to cut peak power consumption

Sweden's Social Democrat caretaker government has agreed with the incoming Moderates on a goal of cutting peak power consumption by 5 percent as part of an EU scheme.

Sweden's parties agree on goal to cut peak power consumption

Now the election is over, both parties seem willing to consider ways to encourage citizens to reduce power use, an obvious measure to reduce winter power prices that was conspicuously absent from the campaign. 

At the same time, the Moderates are downplaying their election campaign pledge to bring in “high-cost protection” to reimburse citizens for much of the impact of high power costs by the start of November. 

At a meeting of the parliament’s Committee on Industry and Trade, the two parties agreed that both the caretaker Social Democrat government and the incoming Moderate-led government should take action to cut power consumption by between 5 percent and 10 percent. 

“If we succeed in carrying this out on a coordinated EU level, we will be on the way to at the very least halving electricity prices,” Energy minister Khashayar Farmanbar told Sweden’s TT newswire. 

“We stand behind the ambition to reduce consumption,” agreed Carl-Oskar Bohlin, the Moderate Party’s power spokesperson, after a meeting of the committee on Wednesday. 

But he said that meeting the goal would be very much dependent on outside factors, particularly how cold the winter is in Sweden. 

“Then there are questions of how that should happen practically in real terms,” he said. “In Sweden, electricity use is largely dependent on the outside temperature. If we have a mild winter, it will be extremely easy to hit the 5 percent target, if we have a really harsh winter, it might be impossible.”

The Moderates are agreed that the public sector should reduce “unnecessary power consumption”, but have yet to agree on measures that households should take, such as reducing indoor temperatures or turning off the lights. 

At the same time, Bohlin admitted on Wednesday that the high-cost protection that Ulf Kristersson pledged in the campaign by November 1st, may be delayed by the government negotiations. 

“We promised high-cost protection from November 1st, on the condition that a new government was in place rapidly,” he told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. “The problem is that Svenska kraftnät [the company that owns and operates Sweden’s power grid], is working to another schedule, one given by the current government.” 

The outgoing Social Democrat government has given Svenska kraftnät until November 15th to propose a system for high-cost protection. The cash paid back to households and businesses would be taken from the bottle-neck income which the grid operator receives as a result of capacity shortages in the network. 

The outgoing Social Democrats have also changed their rhetoric since the end of the campaign .

On September 9th, two days before the election took place, the Social Democrat government framed a meeting of EU ministers on September 9th as a “breakthrough” in the EU negotiations. 

Farmanbar is now describing it as “a process”. 

“What we can promise right now is that we’re going to work as hard as we can to get a breakthrough,” he said. 

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