Ukraine invasion fears as Putin faces Covid backlash in Russia
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The warning came as a response to a pile-up of 100,000 Russian troops appearing at the Ukraine-Russia border, with fears of an imminent invasion soaring. But to prevent a Russian invasion, Germany has now threatened to scrap the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Mr Putin has been eager to speed up the certification of the pipeline that will transit gas from Russia into Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland.
He was accused of decreasing volumes of gas travelling into Europe to accelerate that process, and now his critics say that the build-up of Russian troops is yet another ploy to intimidate the West into handing Mr Putin what he wants.
But the move appears to have backfired, as the new German administration seems to be taking a tougher line on Russia than former Chancellor Angela Merkel, who initially struck the deal with Mr Putin for Nord Stream 2.
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new Chancellor, said on Wednesday: “It is important that Europe makes clear together that we will not accept this and that we do not agree with what is happening there.
“We will not accept a violation of those borders.”
Germany looks to have made those warnings even clearer by threatening to abandon Nord Stream 2 altogether.
Annalena Baerbock, the foreign minister, told German television on Sunday night: “In the event of further escalation this gas pipeline could not come into service.”
And while Mr Putin had been pushing for certification to speed up, the pipeline already had its approval suspended last month by German regulators.
Ms Baerbock said: “As things stand at the moment, the pipeline cannot be approved because it does not meet the requirements of European energy law and there are still safety issues.”
The Biden administration called on Germany last week to cancel the £8billion pipeline plans if Russia invades.
Washington claimed this would give the West “leverage” over Russia.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Russia, following a virtual meeting between Joe Biden and Mr Putin: “If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine.
“The subject of the future of Nord Stream 2 in the context of an invasion of Ukraine by Russia in the coming weeks is a topic of utmost priority. It has been discussed thoroughly.”
And Mr Scholz also said on Sunday that Germany is committed to safeguarding Ukraine’s role as a transit route for gas into Europe.
Germany’s new chancellor said that he would “do anything” to make sure of this.
He warned Russia: “It would be a serious mistake to believe that violating the borders of a European country would remain without consequences”.
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But some experts do not think that the move to scrap the pipeline will do enough to discourage Russia from invading Ukraine.
Olexander Scherba, a chief advisor at Ukraine gas giant Naftogaz, told Express.co.uk: “If Putin attacks, he doesn’t get what he wants.
“But there is the very same logic from the other side that if Putin doesn’t get what he wants, then he will attack.
“I don’t see much difference between one or the other in the way to approach.
“We are a little bit worried that Putin doesn’t get what he wants no matter how damaging it is for the transatlantic relationship and for Europe just because he raised the stakes immensely over the last few weeks.”
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