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Angela Merkel ‘concealed’ information that Russia could use gas to blackmail Europe

In Europe
June 09, 2024

Angela Merkel knew that Russia could attempt to blackmail Europe into launching a major gas pipeline but “concealed” the information, according to Handelsblatt, the German newspaper.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was designed to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany but it was hugely controversial because of the risk it posed to Ukraine.

Critics feared that if it supplied gas directly to Europe, Russia would be able to starve Ukraine’s economy of the transit fees it had been collecting.

As those fears were voiced and the pipeline also awaited approval for other regulatory hurdles, Russia began reducing gas supplies through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which also carried gas from Russia to Germany.

Critics feared that if it supplied gas directly to Europe, Russia would be able to starve Ukraine's economy of transit fees

Critics feared that if it supplied gas directly to Europe, Russia would be able to starve Ukraine’s economy of transit fees – Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe

In her final months as German chancellor in 2021, Ms Merkel told Handelsblatt that there had been no reason to believe Russia was limiting gas deliveries.

However, according to confidential documents seen by the newspaper, the economy ministry warned that Russia was filling gas storage facilities “very slowly” and that relying on the Kremlin for gas could have “dramatic consequences”.

The revelation comes as new documents published by Süddeutsche Zeitung, the newspaper, also showed that two consecutive Merkel governments intensively pushed for Nord Stream 2 to come online, claiming its deal with Gazprom, the energy company – which is majority state-owned – was a “private-sector project”.

This was despite repeated criticism of the project from the US and European allies, which said the pipeline would make Europe too reliant on Russian gas. Other European governments said the link was vital to secure energy supplies amid a surge in gas prices in 2021.

Germany told the Kremlin that a condition of the deal, which had been set to transport Russian gas 761 miles through the Baltic Sea, was that Russia would continue to use onshore gas pipelines through Ukraine.

But internal economy ministry documents warned after a meeting with Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor-turned-Gazprom lobbyist, that the state fossil fuels giant “could not be forced” to do so.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 was officially cancelled. Both pipelines – Nord Stream 1 and 2 – were then destroyed by unknown attackers in September that year.

Various leaders including Angela Merkel turn a wheel to start the symbolic flow of gas through Nord Stream 1 in 2011

Various leaders including Angela Merkel turn a wheel to start the symbolic flow of gas through Nord Stream 1 in 2011 – Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Reacting to the newspaper revelations, Robert Habeck, the Green Vice-Chancellor, called the previous government’s judgment a “historic mistake”. “We should have never made ourselves dependent on Putin’s gas.”

Felix Banaszak, the Green MP, went further, calling for a public inquiry and describing Nord Stream 2 as “the biggest economic, energy and foreign policy failure since the founding of the federal republic”.

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