MOSCOW: The Kremlin said on Wednesday the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany should not be linked to the case of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who Berlin says was poisoned in Russia with a nerve agent.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced calls to halt the nearly-complete pipeline bringing Russian gas to Germany in response to the suspected poisoning of Navalny in Siberia last month.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Nord Stream 2 should not be raised when discussing the Navalny case.
“It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation,” he said. “This is a commercial project that is absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and European Union countries, and primarily Germany.”
Moscow says it has yet to see proof the 44-year-old opposition politician, a critic of the Kremlin, was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, as laboratories in three European countries have established.
Peskov reiterated that Russia was hoping to cooperate with Germany on the case but that its efforts to do so had so far been rebuffed.
“What happened to the Berlin patient needs… investigation and clarification,” Peskov said, referring to Navalny. “To move forward on this investigation and clarify the circumstances, cooperation with Germany is essential, first and foremost. Russia is seeking this cooperation but has not been met with reciprocity.”
Led by Russia’s Gazprom with western partners, the Nord Stream 2 project, which will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany, is more than 90% complete and scheduled to operate from early 2021.
In a sign that Russia is determined to press on with the politically charged project, a Gazprom vessel has departed St Petersburg for Mukran, the pipeline’s supply base in Germany, ship tracking data showed on Wednesday.
On Tuesday Navalny posted a photograph on Instagram of him sitting up in his Berlin hospital bed and surrounded by his family. He said he could now breathe independently after having been in a coma following his poisoning.