German official: "Of course" Nord Stream 2 is an "existential threat" to Ukraine
A top German lawmaker representing Chancellor Olaf Scholz's party told Axios that "of course" Ukraine is right to call Nord Stream 2 an "existential threat" to its security, and that past German governments were wrong to dub the pipeline a "purely commercial project."
Why it matters: Nord Stream 2 has been a major headache for the Biden administration, which waived sanctions on the operator of the Russia-to-Germany pipeline in order to help repair relations with Berlin damaged during the Trump era.
Driving the news: Nils Schmid, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), spoke to Axios in a wide-ranging phone interview ahead of Scholz's meeting with President Biden at the White House on Monday.
- Schmid said the visit will be a "huge opportunity" to showcase the strength of the trans-Atlantic alliance and dispel doubts about Germany's position on Russia, which has come under fire as Moscow threatens to invade Ukraine.
- The German government has said "all options are on the table" for sanctions if Russia invades — including halting Nord Stream 2 — but has declined requests to provide Ukraine with defensive weaponry.
What they're saying: Schmid told Axios that the German government had "for far too long" ignored the "political dimension" of Nord Stream 2, which would bypass Ukrainian territory and deprive Kyiv of billions of dollars in gas-transit fees.
- But he added that Ukraine had been "short-sighted" to continue to rely on this revenue for so many years, saying: "After all, there is no God-given right for Ukraine to have Russian gas transited through Ukrainian territory."
- Schmid stressed that the SPD and the German government do not share the views of Gerhard Schröder, the former SPD chancellor of Germany who is chairman of the board of Nord Stream AG and a close friend of Vladimir Putin.
- Responding to Schröder's recent accusation that Ukraine was engaging in "saber-rattling," Schmid told Axios: "Many in the party feel uneasy about what he said. But still, there is no need to distance oneself from him every day, every morning and every evening, because this gives too much weight to what he says."
The big picture: Schmid said he believes "there's a sense of understanding in Washington that Germany won't deliver any weapons to Ukraine," including German-origin Howitzers that Berlin has blocked NATO ally Estonia from sending to Kyiv.
- He cited Germany's historical obligations not to send weapons to conflict zones, restrictive arms control policies and role as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine in the so-called Normandy Format.
- "There was some disappointment from Ukraine and some bullying of Germany by conservative governments within NATO, but I think that Biden and his administration know very well how important Germany can be in maintaining channels of communication with Russia," Schmid said.
The bottom line: Schmid praised the Biden administration for its intensive consultations with European allies on the Ukraine crisis, and said Scholz's visit will show that the chancellor is a committed trans-Atlanticist: "He comes as a friend and will be received as a friend."