German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday (22 August) called for an agreement to extend Russian gas transit through Ukraine, in an attempt to reassure Kyiv over the nearly completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will carry gas to Europe while bypassing the country.
Merkel’s trip came two days after she went to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where both leaders were unable to extend Moscow’s gas transit deal with Ukraine after 2024 when it expires.
“We agree with the Americans that gas should not be used as a geopolitical weapon,” she said after a meeting in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We made clear that we will take action in a European framework toward further sanctions if the suspicion gains traction that the pipeline is being used as a weapon,” she added.
This will also be reflected in the extension of the transit contract through Ukraine, and “the sooner this happens the better,” Merkel said.
“It is important that Ukraine remains a transit land,” the German leader added, saying that negotiations to extend the gas transit agreement are getting underway. “But this is a project that still has to be developed step by step and that cannot replace gas transit in 2024,” Merkel said.
The Biden administration decided in May against imposing sanctions over the pipeline, adopting a softer stance on the issue than the previous US President, Donald Trump. The US came to an agreement with Merkel about Nord Stream in July, which was interpreted by some in Eastern Europe as playing into Moscow’s hands.
Merkel said she viewed the recent German-US agreement “as a commitment by the German government to ward off President Zelenskyy’s worry, namely energy being used as a weapon.”
The deal between Merkel and US President Joe Biden included a commitment to helping Ukraine continue to receive transit fees once Nord Stream 2 becomes operational.
But it has stoked mistrust in Kyiv as the Biden administration has not tried to kill off the project with sanctions, a move that was supported by the Ukrainian government.
Kyiv fiercely opposed the deal, fearing it would lose out on Russian gas transit fees once the controversial gas pipeline comes online.
Speaking alongside Merkel in Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy insisted that Nord Stream 2 is a “dangerous weapon” that poses a threat to all of Europe.
“I believe that not to notice that this is a dangerous weapon, not only for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe, is wrong,” Zelenskiy told a joint press briefing in Kyiv.
“As for the continuation of transit through Ukraine after 2024, I think that so far these things are too general,” he added, showing his doubts about Merkel’s reassurances.
Zelenskyi said Ukraine has initiated consultations with the European Parliament and the German government regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Energy ministers from the United States, Germany and Ukraine will meet in Kyiv on Monday.
Last week in Moscow, Merkel said she would “fight until the last day in office to ensure that Ukraine’s territorial integrity can be guaranteed.”
Putin retorted that Moscow was ready to extend the transit agreement beyond 2024, but that more details were needed on how this could be done.
Berlin has raised the possibility of creating a mechanism to compensate Ukraine for lost revenue. It also vowed to support Ukraine’s energy diversification, committing a total of €1 billion to develop renewable energy projects in the country.
One idea is to use the country’s existing gas pipelines to transport hydrogen. Ukraine’s energy company Naftogaz and Germany’s RWE have recently agreed to jointly develop green hydrogen production, storage and transportation.
German summit attendance
Ukraine on 24 August will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union and host a summit on the de-occupation of Crimea.
Merkel indicated she will not participate in the Crimea Platform summit, a new consultative format initiated by Kyiv to coordinate an international response to the Russian occupation.
Asked whether her decision was made in order to please Russia, Merkel said: “it does not indicate that.”
“I have made it clear that we consider the annexation of Crimea a violation of international law, and nothing has changed. The reason for my visit, which is taking place ahead of the Crimea Platform, was to discuss both the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy format,” she said.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was originally supposed to attend the meeting and will be replaced by the country’s economy minister, Peter Altmaier.
“The fact that our foreign minister will not come now is not related to our relations with Russia, it is linked only to the current situation in Afghanistan,” Merkel said.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]