BERLIN, Sept 5 (Reuters) – A senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives declined to say on Saturday whether the party should reconsider a major gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, in protest against the suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Navalny was airlifted to Germany after falling ill. The German government says he was poisoned with a nerve agent similar to the one used in an attempt to kill a former Russian spy in England. Moscow says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that a failure by Moscow to help to clear up the circumstances of Navalny’s poisoning would add to suspicions that Russia’s government was involved.
The affair has led to calls from several leading conservatives for Merkel to suspend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a huge, nearly complete project to bring Russian gas to Germany under the sea. Merkel, a supporter of the pipeline, has said it should not be linked to the Navalny case.
Asked whether the Navalny case meant the government should reconsider the pipeline, Armin Laschet, governor of the most populous German state and a leading contender to succeed Merkel as Conservative candidate for chancellor, said Germany should seek a common response with its EU partners.
“We need a European answer – no go it alone – that allows Europe to make its position clear to Russia,” said Laschet. “It is good if we reach a common solution that’s as cohesive as possible.”
Led by Russia’s Gazprom with Western partners, Nord Stream 2 is more than 90% completed and scheduled to operate from early 2021. The project has divided opinion within the European Union, with some members saying it undermines traditional gas transit state Ukraine and increases the bloc’s reliance on Russia. (Reporting by Andreas Rinke Writing by Joseph Nasr Editing by Peter Graff)