US, Germany reach accord to finish gas pipeline with Russia

Washington/Berlin, Jul 21 (EFE).- The United States and Germany on Wednesday announced an agreement whereby Washington will permit the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in exchange for Berlin’s help in protecting the supply of energy to Ukraine.

The pact resolves the main bone of contention in the relationship between Washington and Berlin: the flat US opposition to the pipeline, which will link Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea and which is already almost finished.

In a joint statement, the US and Germany said that they were “united in their determination to hold Russia to account for its aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools.”

Should Russia attempt to “use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine,” Germany promised to take steps on its own and push for actions at the EU, including sanctions, “to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the energy sector,” the statement said.

The joint statement, however, did not specify what Russian actions would trigger such a response from Germany.

“We elected not to provide Russia with a road map in terms of how they can evade that commitment to push back,” a senior State Department official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US State Department emphasized that it continues to oppose the pipeline because it considers it a Russian plan to extend its “malign activities” in Europe, but it had decided to agree to allow the completion of the project.

The most important point in the agreement is Germany’s commitment to promote the approval of sanctions against Russia within the European Union if Moscow tries to use energy “as a weapon” or takes new “aggressive” action against Ukraine.

In that case, the German government’s push for “effective” measures against Moscow could affect the export of Russian energy products to the EU, specifically natural gas, but also have reprecussions in other “relevant” economic sectors, according to the statement.

The US opposition to the pipeline has been mainly due to worries among its allies in Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine, who fears that the project will allow Russia to jettison the transit route for its gas through Ukrainian territory.

To deal with this concern, Germany also promised to help Ukraine negotiate an extension of up to 10 years on its contracts for the transit of Russian gas, contracts which expire in 2024.

The German government also will appoint a special envoy to undertake those negotiations, which will commence “as soon as possible” but not later than Sept. 1, according to the joint statement.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas confirmed in a communique that Berlin will ensure that the transit of gas through Ukrainian territory is guaranteed over the coming decade.

Germany will support the Ukrainian economy with the aid of renewable energy so that Kiev can orient itself toward the future and become more energy-independent, a move that will help to develop a “greener” overall European energy architecture, Maas added.

Specifically, according to the accord, Berlin promises to establish and administer a Green Fund for Kiev that will support the energy transition to cleaner sources for Ukraine.

Initially, Berlin will contribute at least $175 million to the fund and both Washington and Berlin promised to promote investment in that project of “at least $1 billion,” including funds from the private sector.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on Wednesday about the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call during which they discussed Nord Stream 2 and the “transit of gas via Ukraine,” the German government said without providing further details.

With Merkel slated to leave the German political scene after the September elections in Germany, Washington will have to ensure that whoever succeeds her at the helm of the German government complies with the terms of the accord.

A top State Department official, who asked for anonymity, said in a telephone press conference that Washington will seek to ensure that any future German government will adhere to the commitments made in the accord.

The pact sparked heavy criticism from both parties in the US Congress, including Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, who said it was a “mistake” to let the pipeline be completed.

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