After massive protests last week, Germany is allowing German politicians to question Russia over a controversial gas pipeline that will pass through the country. The Russians responded by making good on a threat to freeze a bilateral deal that would have authorized gas shipments to Germany.
The pipeline, which would serve Russia’s giant Gazprom state energy company, was first planned to link up to Russia’s offshore Black Sea gas field, but faced steep opposition from environmental advocates who feared the construction of a pipe 500 miles from Russia would damage German, and other, rivers.
What’s more, when construction began in 2010, Russian state media acknowledged that the pipeline would have “minimal impact” on German, and other, rivers. But tensions have risen since the Ukraine crisis erupted and began shifting the stakes from economics to geopolitics. The issue also made waves during Germany’s election earlier this year, during which Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition faced a spate of attacks against Russia-exposed political party posters.
The suspension marks the first time in decades that state politicians have been allowed to question the Russians on the pipeline, which is due to be completed in the next two years. In a statement issued on Sunday evening, Alexander Gottschalk, a deputy environment minister from Merkel’s conservative party, said he would be asking the Russians to explain “how the environment will be protected during the construction period, how the Environment Ministry will be instructed during construction, and what measures the Russian Environment Ministry will take to ensure the responsible and safe operation of the pipeline.”
While the pipeline would use Russian gas and could facilitate energy relations between the countries, it has drawn opposition from many in Germany, including some within Merkel’s own party.
The federal government’s decision comes amid tensions between NATO members and Russia that have grown in recent months over accusations Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Germany, too, is under increasing international scrutiny for its conduct with regard to its nuclear reactors.