German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says his government has taken steps to halt the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, Scholz said he had asked the economy ministry “to withdraw the report on security of supply with our federal networks agency”, calling this “the first step to make sure the pipeline cannot be certified at this point”.
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“Without certification the Nord Stream 2 can’t operate,” he added. “We will reassess the situation that has evolved over the past few days. It’s important to launch new sanctions now to prevent an escalation and a disaster.”
Scholz’s announcement came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said Moscow would recognise two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.
Al Jazeera’s Dominic Kane reporting from Berlin said the German government’s move might be the first step of many to come from European and NATO countries.
“From the German perspective they have always wanted to try and get de-escalation to be the word on everyone’s lips. It isn’t. They have had to react. Mr. Scholz and his colleagues around the cabinet had always tried to avoid referring to what they might do. Now we know,” Kane said.
“The question now is what else will be done. We know the German government had always said it want to take multi-lateral action. Things to watch out for is what else will come. What else might come from the German government but also from the European Union and NATO at large.” Kane added.
The $11bn gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea, owned by Russia’s state-backed energy giant Gazprom, runs from western Siberia to Germany, doubling the capacity of the already-in-use Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
The divisive project has faced resistance from the United States and within the European Union, on the grounds it increases Europe’s energy dependence on Russia.
While Germany has long maintained it is solely a commercial project, Nord Stream 2 also has geostrategic consequences, bypassing Ukraine and potentially depriving it of the approximately $2bn in transit fees Russia currently pays to send gas through its territory.