Analysis: Navalny case in Russia casts a shadow over German politics ahead of elections

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Pity for the next German Chancellor.

FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the city of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia, June 5, 2019. REUTERS / Anton Vaganov / File Photo

The poisoning and imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has propelled Nord Stream 2 – a pipeline to bring Russian gas to Europe – to the top of Germany’s political agenda. This created a serious problem for Angela Merkel’s likely successor even before he had started, leaving the prospects for a viable coalition government after the September elections unfinished.

The man in pole position to succeed Merkel after the election, the new Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet, firmly supports Nord Stream 2 but his future partner in power, the environmentalists The Greens, harden their opposition.

The Navalny affair has prompted the Greens to step up their demand to shut down the pipeline and threatens to cripple the next chancellor, who will also have to face American opposition and even doubts from France, the closest ally of the Germany.

Navalny, sentenced on Tuesday to 3.5 years in prison after a Moscow court ruled he violated his parole conditions, was arrested on January 17 after returning from Germany to Russia where he was treated for poisoning with a military rank. nerve agent.

Her conviction prompted Greens leader Annalena Baerbock to pressure Merkel’s government to drop the politically charged pipeline project, construction of which has largely been suspended since December 2019 following a threat of sanctions. the United States and the withdrawal of a pipe-laying company.

“We will be pushing for this now and in the future,” Baerbock told broadcaster ZDF this week when asked if the project could not go forward with his party in the German government.

Over 90% of the project is complete and it is expected to be officially launched later this year.

But the opposition of the Greens carries the weight of the opinion of the United States and many others in Europe. The pipeline’s dependence on services provided by countries bordering the overcrowded Baltic Sea means that there are many pressure points: withdrawals under US pressure by safety certification companies in Denmark and Norway could further torpedo the project, according to a source of the Greens.

Omid Nouripour, the Greens’ spokesperson for foreign affairs, told Reuters that Nord Stream 2 was “a bet against climate protection, a divisive subject for the European Union, a terrible bet for our energy security” .

The Navalny affair prompted the Greens to double their opposition to the project, which would bring Russian natural gas to Germany, from where there could be a flow to other places in Europe.

“Novichok, the arrest of the leader of the opposition, 3,300 arrests in one day, massive police violence – none of this exactly weakens our position (against) Nord Stream,” Nouripour said.

He declined to be drawn to the prospects of a “Black-Green” coalition in Berlin with the CDU and its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), saying only: “People talk a lot about blacks. -Green. People still talk a lot.

Laschet, unlike the Greens, said in an interview with Reuters this week that Nord Stream 2 was essential to guarantee Germany’s energy security.

He said he was fearless by the flap of Nord Stream 2, saying he didn’t think the pipeline would be an insurmountable obstacle to coalition talks: “I think a consensus with the Greens, for example, is possible . “

INTRA-PARTY DISPUTES

Germany’s increasingly fractured political landscape means a coalition of the conservative CDU / CSU alliance and the Greens are the most likely scenario after the September vote, when Merkel steps down after four out of 15 terms. years.

“Since the new chancellor will have to devote a lot of energy to party disputes and coalition politics, the prospects for overtaking (on diplomacy) are dim, at least in the short term,” said Naz Masraff, of the political risk consultancy firm. Eurasia.

“A more withdrawn Germany is what we will achieve (on the) international stage. Merkel will be sadly missed, ”she said.

Complicating the diplomatic challenge for Berlin, French European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune said on Monday that France had urged Germany to abandon Nord Stream 2, especially after the mass arrest of Navalny supporters.

German diplomats said they felt Beaune was expressing his point of view rather than that of the French government, and Berlin’s position was unchanged anyway.

Germany and Russia say that Nord Stream 2 is just a business project. Washington has long argued that the pipeline would dangerously increase Russian influence in Europe. New US President Joe Biden believes this is a “bad deal for Europe”.

European Union lawmakers passed a resolution last month calling on the bloc to stop the completion of Nord Stream 2, in response to Navalny’s incarceration.

With so many forces lined up against the pipeline, there is talk in parts of Berlin that it may never be finished, instead either hanging forever a few miles from the German landing – or completed but never. alight.

“Maybe the Navalny trial finally gives Germany an opportunity to turn a strength out of a weakness and rethink our position on the pipeline,” said the Greens source.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Editing by Mark Heinrich


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