The development of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany should not be linked to the case of Alexey Navalny, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, amid bristling tensions between the two countries.
Berlin said Navalny was poisoned in Russia with a nerve agent, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced calls to halt the nearly complete pipeline bringing Russian gas to Germany in response to the suspected attack.
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Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nord Stream 2 should not be raised when discussing the Navalny case.
“It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation,” he said. “This is a commercial project that is absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and European Union countries, and primarily Germany.”
Moscow says it has yet to see proof the 44-year-old Kremlin critic was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, as claimed by laboratories in three European countries.
On Monday, the German government said tests by French and Swedish laboratories backed up its findings.
Navalny was flown to Berlin for treatment at the Charite hospital two days after falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on August 20.
Peskov reiterated that Russia was hoping to cooperate with Germany on the case but that its efforts to do so have so far been rebuffed.
“What happened to the Berlin patient needs … investigation and clarification,” Peskov said, referring to Navalny.
“To move forward on this investigation and clarify the circumstances, cooperation with Germany is essential, first and foremost. Russia is seeking this cooperation but has not been met with reciprocity.”
Led by Russia’s Gazprom with Western partners, the Nord Stream 2 project, which will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany, is more than 90 percent complete and scheduled to operate from early 2021.
In a sign that Russia is determined to press on with the project, a Gazprom vessel has departed St Petersburg for Mukran, the pipeline’s supply base in Germany, ship tracking data showed on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Navalny posted a photograph on Instagram of himself sitting up in his Berlin hospital bed. He said he could now breathe independently after having been in a coma following his poisoning.
The United States and many European countries oppose the pipeline, which they have said will increase Europe’s reliance on Russian gas and deprive transit states such as Poland and Ukraine of leverage over the giant country to their east.
The US, rich in domestic energy as a result of soaring shale gas production, is also eager to expand its exports, including to Germany, whose industrial might is heavily dependent on imports, mainly from Russia.