Ukraine MP on Germany financing Russian gas sales
Manuela Schwesig, chief minister of the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, is the latest member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to come under scrutiny over her ties to the Russian state-backed gas pipeline, which Germany has insisted — both in the build-up to and throughout the conflict in Ukraine — is only a commercial project.
Hundreds of emails and documents released under the Environment Information Law show the 47-year-old regional leader allegedly set up an environmental foundation that was secretly designed to lobby for Nord Stream 2, divert it from criticism and avoid US sanctions.
She cooperated so closely with Nord Stream 2 AG, which is owned by Gazprom and is behind the project, that revisions to her public statements were suggested.
Ms Schwesig, now described as “Putin’s puppet” by critics, is facing calls to resign, with Norbert Röttgen, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), accusing her of “colluding with a Russian company and deliberately misleading the public”.
Ms Schwesig gave a speech in the state parliament dismissing criticism of the project as an attempt to pressure Berlin into buying “US fracking gas” and has since claimed “Putin deceived us all”.
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But the opposition CDU, Greens and Free Democratic Party (FDP) have set up a committee of investigation to unravel the interests of the state government, the NGO and the Russian supporters of the pipeline.
Construction for Nord Strem 2, which runs from western Siberia to Germany, was completed last September, and if regulators had given it the green light to operate, it could have heated 26 million German homes at an affordable price by doubling the capacity of the already-in-use Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Washington had long labelled the pipeline a geopolitical weapon for Moscow to undermine energy and national security.
More than seven weeks into the war and nearly two months after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz halted the divisive project, the leaked documents put the White House’s suspicion in the spotlight again.
The receiving station, in Germany, for the cancelled Nord Stream 2 project
The documents, obtained by the broadsheet Die Welt, reveal Ms Schwesig’s office was acting as “a branch of Gazprom”, and that the charity founded by her administration last year planned to hire “experienced employees” of Nord Stream 2.
Ms Schwesig was named on the founding documents of said NGO, Die Welt reported, and millions of euros for the organisation, mostly from Gazprom, were aimed at completing the pipeline and protecting it from US sanctions.
The leaked documents suggest the Nord Stream 2 communications manager was giving Mr Schwesig direct instructions on the matter. They read: “We should try to position the foundation . . . as a ‘smart answer’ to US hard-line behaviour.”
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The manager also asked that “an employee of our agency” listen in to off-the-record conversations with journalists, to which no objection is noted in the leaked documents, although Ms Schwesig’s representative denies that anyone was granted access to information shared in sensitive discussions.
Gerhard Schröder, who was Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005 and is also a Gazprom director and chairman of Nord Stream 2 AG, has come under pressure, too, as he met Ms Schwesig multiple times to discuss how US sanctions could be circumvented, German paper Der Spiegel claimed.
Coverage of the leaked documents by national media comes amid signs Mr Scholz’s CDU — Ms Schwesig’s party — may make Russian oil a part of a sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.
The chairmen of three German parliamentarian committees last week said the European Union should impose an embargo on Russian oil as soon as possible as that would affect the country’s main source of income.
Mr Scholz has said Germany could end Russian oil imports by the end of the year, while energy imports have already been reduced significantly.
Russian oil now accounts for 25 percent of German imports – down from 35 percent before the invasion began on February 24.
Michael Roth, the German Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, said a quick EU decision could be combined with a transition phase like the import ban on Russian coal, which will come into effect in mid-August after bloc ambassadors agreed on it last week.
Express.co.uk approached Ms Schwesig’s office for comment.