German Chancellor Angela Merkel has frequently been criticized for her 'realpolitik' decision to embrace the 'Nord Stream 2'. As Tom Luongo quipped back in July, "no single project has caused more wailing and gnashing of teeth than Nordstream 2. And since Nordstream 2 is simply the substitute for South Stream, which was supposed to come across the Black Sea into Bulgaria and then feed eastern Europe, this U.S. opposition to another Russian pipeline spans multiple administrations." Despite obstacles created by US sanctions on Russia, the Gazprom-led gas-pipeline project is on the verge of completion.
Merkel has defended NordStream as a necessity to secure adequate fossil fuel supplies, even as Germany and its European allies work toward a 'fossil fuel-free' future. In 2017, Germany used up a record 53 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, comprising about 40 percent of Germany's total gas consumption. Nord Stream 2's delivery system is designed to carry up to 55 billion cubic meters (1.942 trillion cubic feet) of gas per year.
Berlin and Moscow agreed on the 1,200-kilometer (746-mile) route connecting the Ust-Luga area near Saint Petersburg with Greifswald in northeastern Germany. The pipes would run across the Baltic Sea, for the most part following the route of the pre-existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which became operational in 2011.
But now, Merkel's political rivals, both in the opposition, and within her own party, are already seizing on the Navalny episode and the 'certainty' with which Germany's Bundeswehr laboratory has supposedly 'confirmed' that Navalny was poisoned with 'military-grade' Novichok, the same Soviet Union-era nerve agent allegedly used to poison former double-agent Sergei and his daughter Yulia Skripal back in 2018.
Some members of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who are jockeying to replace her when she leaves office at the end of her current term are seizing on the opportunity to burnish their 'tough on Russia' credentials. Norbert Roettgen, head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, tweeted that allowing NS2 to be completed would send the wrong messaging by "rewarding" instead of "punishing" Vladimir Putin.
#Russia pursues inhuman & contemptuous politics. Diplomatic rituals are no longer enough. After the poisoning of #Nawalny we need a strong European answer, which #Putin understands: The EU should jointly decide to stop #NordStream2.— Norbert Röttgen (@n_roettgen) September 3, 2020
Brussels has largely opposed NordStream 2 because it's the biggest obstacle to the EU bureaucrats' plan to unshackle the Continent from Russian energy dependence. But on Thursday morning, even the European Union issued a statement clarifying that no new sanctions or other diplomatic recriminations should be imposed before an investigation into the Navalny situation can be completed.
Moscow scoffed at Germany's accusations, insisting that there's no evidence that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, and furthermore, his symptoms, and the circumstances surrounding the incident, aren't consistent with a Novichok attack.
Germany's allegations have "no basis" in fact, and there's no reason for Western countries to consider imposing sanctions in the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call with foreign reporters. "There’s no basis for accusations against the Russian state and we aren’t inclined to accept any" "We don’t want our partners in Germany or any other European country to rush to conclusions."
Even the scientists who developed Novichok, Leonid Rink and Vladimir Uglev, have dismissed Germany's claims, arguing that Novichok is extremely deadly and that there's no way Navalny would have survived. Not only that, but if Novichok had been used, the nurses, fellow passengers and other bystanders likely would have been sickened, like we saw in the Skripal case. Russia insisted that the nerge agent
Here's an excerpt from the NYT's "explainer" on Novichok:
But for decades, scientists, spies and chemical weapons specialists have known about and feared Novichok. It is a potent neurotoxin, developed in the Soviet Union and Russia in the 1980s and 90s, that can be delivered as a liquid, powder or aerosol, and is said to be more lethal than nerve agents that are better known in the West, like VX and sarin.
The poison causes muscle spasms that can stop the heart, fluid buildup in the lungs that can also be deadly, and damage to other organs and nerve cells. Russia has produced several versions of Novichok, and it is anyone’s guess how often they have actually been used, experts say, because the resulting deaths can easily escape scrutiny, appearing like nothing more sinister than a fatal heart attack.
For more contradictions in the narrative, see here. According to the initial reports, Navalny "collapsed" in his airplane bathroom shortly after takeoff. Before leaving, he consumed a cup of tea at the airport, the only food or drink he says he consumed during the hours before takeoff.
Of course, plenty of Merkel's allies are skeptical of sabotaging NordStream 2.
"We will have to see in the next few days what kind of responses we get and what discussions will take place,” he said. “But this is indeed a very serious case,” Brinkhaus said Wednesday.
After realizing his statement ran counter to Merkel’s position on Nord Stream, he rowed back, saying: “I didn’t construct a direct link between the Navalny case and Nord Stream, but just meant general German-Russian relations and what consequences this might have."
Still, Merkel sounded uncharacteristically aggressive yesterday when she shared the allegations with the press. She said that repercussions could be announced in the coming days. Are we about to see more sanctions and/or expulsions of diplomats?
Is this just going to keep happening every 2 years or so?