Ukrainian President Zelensky is vehemently opposed to Russia’s $12 billion pipeline under the Baltic Sea that deprives Kiev of crucial gas transit fees.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kiev sees the soon-to-be-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying Russian gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine as a “dangerous geopolitical weapon”.
The Ukrainian leader was speaking on Sunday at a joint press conference in Kiev with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who spearheaded the pipeline project strongly opposed by Russia’s neighbors Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states.
A $12 billion pipeline under the Baltic Sea is set to double shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany, Europe’s largest economy. It bypasses Ukraine, and deprives Kiev of basic gas transit fees.
“We view this project exclusively from a security perspective and consider it a dangerous geopolitical weapon for the Kremlin,” Zelensky said.
He added that the main risks after its completion “will be borne by Ukraine” but that the pipeline will also be dangerous “for all of Europe”.
The pipeline “will only serve the Russian Federation,” he said.
For her part, Merkel said that Berlin agreed with Washington that “gas should not be used as a geopolitical weapon.”
“It will come down to whether there is an extension of the transit contract through Ukraine – the sooner the better,” she said, referring to the expiration of Moscow’s agreement with Kiev in 2024.
The German president, who met Zelensky two days after visiting his Russian counterpart in Moscow, said she and Vladimir Putin had discussed extending the contract beyond 2024.
“We feel a special responsibility” and “understand the grave concerns expressed by President Zelensky,” she said. “We take them very seriously.”
Zelensky said he and Merkel discussed the extension, but noted that so far he had only heard “very general things”.
The pipeline construction led to tensions between Germany and the United States, but Washington eventually waived sanctions against the Russian-controlled pipeline construction company.
Merkel said Germany-US Agreement Specifies “penalties” if gas is “used as a weapon.”
She added that these commitments are “binding on future German governments,” as she is set to leave office next month after 16 years in power.
The deal between the United States and Germany included a commitment to help Ukraine continue to receive transit fees once Nord Stream 2 was up and running.
But the head of Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz, Yuriy Vitrienko, told Reuters news agency last month that he did not believe Russia would continue to transport any gas through Ukraine beyond 2024.
Merkel has been a key ally of Ukraine since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists seceded from the country’s east.
But the German chancellor thwarted the Ukrainian authorities by opposing sending weapons to Kiev and pushing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline across the finish line.
Merkel also wants more progress in peace talks on eastern Ukraine and on Sunday called for “Normandy format” negotiations between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine.
“This will enable progress, in my opinion,” she said. “I’m glad Zelensky said he’s ready to do it.”