France urges Germany to cancel Russian gas pipeline project over Navalny unrest

·2-min read

France has asked Germany to scrap a major gas pipeline project with Russia over the detention in Moscow of Alexei Navalny, a day after more than 5,000 people were arrested across the country for protesting in support of the opposition leader.

"We have always said we have the greatest doubts on this project in this context," European Affairs minister Clement Beaune told France Inter radio.

Asked specifically if France wanted Berlin to drop the project, Beaune replied: "Indeed, we have already said this."

The United States along with several European countries, including Poland, have criticised the Nord Stream 2 project, saying it will increase German and EU dependence on Russia for critical gas supplies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has continued to support the project, and work resumed in December after a delay of nearly a year because of American sanctions.

Beaune said European leaders were considering new sanctions against Russia over President Vladimir Putin's crackdown on the opposition led by Navalny, who was arrested in mid-January and faces a trial that could see him detained for years.

Thousands defied government warnings to protest across the country on Sunday in a second weekend of mass demonstrations against the arrest of Putin's most prominent opponent.

"Sanctions have already been imposed," Beaune said. "The Nord Stream option is among those under consideration," he added, while acknowledging that "it's a decision for Germany, because the pipeline is in Germany."

Not the first time

On 22 January, the Russian Embassy to the UK said in a statement that Navalny "was convicted for fraud back in 2014," and that he "is not a political prisoner,” but a common criminal, who has flaunted the law to look like a victim for political purposes.

In October last year, France and Germany had already called for "additional sanctions" against Russia in a joint statement strongly condemning "the poisoning of Mr Alexei Navalny on Russian territory" after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the military-grade nerve agent known as “Novichok” and developed in Russia, had been used against the politician.

A Russian spokesperson at the time said the Franco-German call was "unacceptable".