The United States and Germany have completed a deal approving completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would allow Russia to export gas directly to Germany and potentially cut off other nations.
Under the agreement, which ends a longstanding rift over German gas purchases from Russia, Germany commits to taking action if Russia tries to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine.
German chancellor Angela Merkel had previously balked at making independent moves against the Kremlin over the gas pipeline that will run from Russia to Germany and could allow Moscow to bypass Ukraine.
The $11 billion (€9.3 billion) pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea to carry gas from Russia’s Arctic region to Germany is now 98 per cent complete.
US officials have opposed the pipeline, but President Joe Biden’s administration has chosen not to try to kill it with US sanctions.
Instead, it has negotiated the pact with Germany that threatens to impose costs on Russia if it seeks to use the pipeline to harm Ukraine or other countries in the region.
But those measures appeared to have done little to calm fears in Ukraine, which said it was asking for talks with both the European Union and Germany over the pipeline. The agreement also faces political opposition in the United States and Germany.
A joint statement setting out the details of the deal said Washington and Berlin were “united in their determination to hold Russia to account for its aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools.”
If Russia attempts to “use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine,” Germany will take steps on its own and push for actions at the EU, including sanctions, “to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the energy sector,” the statement said.
It did not detail specific Russian actions that would trigger such a move.
“We elected not to provide Russia with a road map in terms of how they can evade that commitment to push back,” a senior State Department official told reporters.
“We also will certainly look to hold any future German governments accountable for the commitments that they have made in this,” the official said.
Under the agreement, Germany will “utilize all available leverage” to extend by 10 years the Russia-Ukraine gas transit agreement, a source of major revenues to Ukraine that expires in 2024.
Germany will also contribute at least $175 million to a new $1 billion “Green Fund for Ukraine” aimed at improving the country’s energy independence.
‘Ukraine sent notes to Brussels and Berlin calling for consultations, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet, adding the pipeline “threatens Ukraine’s security”.
Mr Kuleba also issued a statement with Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, pledging to work together to oppose Nord Stream 2.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he was looking forward to a “frank and vibrant” discussion with Mr Biden over the pipeline when the two meet in Washington next month.
The visit was announced by the White House on Wednesday, but press secretary Jen Psaki said the timing of the announcement was not related to the pipeline agreement.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin hours before the release of the agreement, the German government said, saying Nord Stream 2 and gas transit via Ukraine were among the topics.
The pipeline had been hanging over US-German relations since former president Donald Trump said it could turn Germany into a “hostage of Russia” and approved some sanctions.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter he was “relieved that we have found a constructive solution.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked about the reported details of the agreement earlier on Wednesday, said any threat of sanctions against Russia was not “acceptable,” according to the Interfax news agency. – Reuters