Germany’s new chancellor faced pressure from fellow leaders at his first EU summit to include the future of Nord Stream 2 as part of the “massive price” to be paid in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Arriving in Brussels, Olaf Scholz, who replaced Angela Merkel last week, said his government was committed to protecting Europe’s borders, as Nato warned that the number of Russian troops being mobilised by the Kremlin was continuing to grow.
“The inviolability of borders is one of the very important foundations of peace in Europe, and we will all do everything together to ensure that this inviolability actually remains intact,” Scholz told reporters.
Hours later, Germany’s energy regulator said it would not make a decision on certifying Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany and bypassing Ukraine, until at least the second half of 2022.
But there was growing clamour from some EU leaders for a stronger message on the controversial pipeline from the government in Berlin, including its possible termination as a project in the event of further military escalation.
The EU’s 27 heads of state and government warned in an end-of-summit communique of “massive and severe costs, including restrictive measures” should Russia invade Ukraine. But officials and leaders have refused to flesh out the potential repercussions in public. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, told the leaders she had a package of measures prepared, but did not elaborate further.
Latvia’s prime minister, Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš, said: “It would be important that we could also decide that Nord Stream 2 is on the table, that if there is heightened military activity this project would be turned off.”
Kariņš added that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was using the pipeline as “a sort of blackmail against the European Union, stating falsely that if we want to have more gas, we must open up to Nord Stream 2”.
EU leaders were asked to leave their phones outside the room in which they were meeting in the Europa building in Brussels as discussions began on the issue on Thursday evening.
Putin has mobilised as many as 175,000 troops on Ukraine’s northern, eastern, and southern borders, with the Kremlin blaming “provocative” Nato drills near the border for making the military buildup necessary.
The Russian leader has demanded that Nato withdraw a 2008 pledge to admit Ukraine and Georgia as members of the military alliance as part of his price for de-escalation.
As the EU summit was being held in one part of Brussels, at the Nato headquarters four miles north, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was meeting the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. Following their discussions, Stoltenberg insisted that Ukraine’s potential membership was a matter for the alliance and Kyiv rather than the Kremlin.
He said: “We discussed Russia’s substantial military buildup in and around Ukraine, with tens of thousands of combat-ready troops, tanks, artillery, armoured units, drones, electronic warfare systems. We see no sign that this buildup is stopping or slowing down. On the contrary, it continues.”
Stoltenberg added: “Nato’s support for Ukraine is not a threat to Russia. Ukraine has the right to choose its own security arrangements. This is a fundamental principle of European security. And the decision on whether Ukraine can join Nato will be taken by Ukraine and 30 Nato allies alone.”
The Kremlin said it had submitted draft documents outlining security arrangements it wants to negotiate with the US and its allies. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said a senior Russian envoy stood ready to immediately depart for talks in a neutral country on the proposal.
Meanwhile, Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, was expected to seek EU support at the summit after China imposed economic sanctions on its businesses in response to Taiwan opening a representative office in Vilnius.
Lithuania’s diplomatic delegation to China also left the country on Wednesday due to alleged “intimidation”. China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that concerns over the safety of Lithuanian diplomats in China were groundless.