Merkel Defends German/Russian Pipeline Construction

BERLIN (AP) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday defended her country's ongoing cooperation with Russia on the building of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline amid growing criticism of Moscow's treatment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny and aggression toward Ukraine.

In an online appearance before the Council of Europe, Merkel noted that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline isn't yet completed but Russian gas already flows freely into Europe along other routes, including the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany.

"I know that there is controversy about Nord Stream 2 and I know the opinion of many member states," she said. "But I would like to point out that the gas delivered through Nord Stream 2, which isn't yet flowing, is no worse than the gas from Nord Stream 1, that which flows through Ukraine, and that which comes across Turkey from Russia."

Nord Stream 2 is owned by Russian state company Gazprom, with investment from several European companies, and Merkel noted that it had appropriate EU approvals.

It is being built under the Baltic, bypassing Poland and Ukraine and raising objections in both those countries. The United States has also vocally opposed the pipeline, saying it would make Europe too dependent on Russian gas.

Merkel said Germany has "great concerns" about Navalny's treatment, and is part of European Union sanctions on Russia related to his case, as well as over Ukraine. But the idea of terminating the Nord Stream 2 project raises broader questions, she said.

"I have the impression that with Nord Stream 2 we may be waging a conflict that is much wider, and touches upon the question of the extent to which we want to trade with Russia, especially in the energy sector," she said.

Germany has frequently noted that even at the height of the Cold War, Western Europe relied on energy supplies from Russia, and Merkel said that, for her, dialogue remained the best recourse to resolving differences.

"We have many conflicts with Russia that unfortunately make our relationship difficult," she said. "But despite that I'm always someone who says we must talk with one another."