Germany suspends Russian gas pipeline and exacerbates crisis between Europe and Putin

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Germany suspends Russian gas pipeline and exacerbates crisis between Europe and Putin

The crisis between Russia and Europe gained a new chapter this Tuesday (16), with the government of Germany suspending the certification for operation of the new gas pipeline that Moscow completed connecting its territory to the German one.

Nord Stream 2 is the second branch of a mega-project started in the 2000s, and it doubles the capacity to transport natural gas across the Baltic Sea, enabling Russia to divert supplies that are now mostly provided by rival Ukraine and turbulent ally Belarus.

The decision of the German Federal Networks Agency is supported by a technicality. According to the agency, the operation of the gas pipeline must be carried out by a company fully subject to German law.

But Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, has formed a consortium with European companies based in Switzerland and a German subsidiary to operate the stretches of the project in the European country. According to the agency, this new company will have four months to regularize its situation.

As a result, the gas may only be pumped through the new branch next year. Nord Stream 2 was completed, after six years of construction, on September 10th. He is one of the most controversial legacies of the government of Angela Merkel, who is leaving her post as chancellor after 16 years, as it increases Vladimir Putin’s bargaining power in the European energy market.

The Russians already supply 40% of the product consumed by the EU (European Union), and this year they were accused of withholding gas during the continent’s supply crisis, seeking profits and political pressure. The Kremlin denies it.

It is unlikely that the pipeline will not go into operation, despite the American lobby and even German sectors. But the decision now comes at a time of extreme tension in relations with Moscow.

Russia is accused by the EU and the US of fomenting the refugee crisis on the Belarus-Polish border, which has mobilized military forces from both countries as well as Moscow and London.

The West accuses Putin of encouraging Aleksandr Lukachenko’s dictatorship to lure immigrants from war-affected countries and push them inward on European borders. The allies to the east deny it.

Also on Tuesday, Polish security forces used water cannons and tear gas to try to stop refugees at the border. Last week, there were beatings and arrests of immigrants, and at least one person died, presumably from the cold at night.

The violence of the repression has caused internal criticism to Warsaw, which is already a complex country in the European context, for advocating aggressive instances against Russia within NATO (Western military alliance) and for having a right-wing government considered to violate EU principles.

There are perhaps 15,000 refugees in Belarus, 4,000 concentrated in border areas. Shelter conditions are precarious, as in Tuesday’s conflict region near the Polish city of Kuźnica.

The Poles defend themselves, saying they were just avoiding an attack with stones against their soldiers. Both Poland and neighboring Lithuania, which is also struggling, have declared a state of emergency to ensure the expulsion of any migrants — and have curbed the work of the press in the affected areas.

On Monday, the EU unveiled new economic sanctions against the dictatorship in Minsk, sparking protests by Lukachenko’s government. The use of refugees, the bloc says, is intended to retaliate against existing punishments, carried out in the wake of the dictator’s crackdown on protests after winning a shell election in 2020.

As this crisis unfolds, Putin has raised alarms in the West for moving troops near the border with Ukraine, a country with whom he has had a difficult relationship since 2014, when he annexed Crimea and fueled the civil war that left eastern Ukraine autonomous.

The Russian denies that he intends to invade his neighbor in support of pro-Kremlin separatists. Its main intention, in fact, is to maintain the status quo of frozen conflict in the region, known as the Donbass, as this prevents Ukraine from formally joining NATO and makes access to the European Union difficult.

Both blocs require members without territorial problems, and the Kremlin sees Ukraine, as well as its ally Belarus, as buffer areas between its armed forces and those of NATO countries.

Interestingly, the Ukrainian Border Guard itself tried to downplay the importance of the movement, noting that it takes place hundreds of kilometers away, which does not suggest any imminent threat. But the United States was tough in saying that Russia should not “repeat the mistake of 2014”, in the words of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

On Monday (15), it was the turn of French President Emmanuel Macron to tell Putin by telephone that he was committed to guaranteeing Ukrainian territorial integrity.

In any case, the Nord Stream 2 issue adds temperature to a broth that has been bubbling unparalleled since the annexation of Crimea. For now, Gazprom has just said it will look into the German demands.

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