Germany has halted the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in response to Russia’s escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he has ordered a rethink from regulators in light of what he called a changed security environment in Europe.
Speaking in Berlin on Tuesday, Scholz said this was a necessary administrative step so that the pipeline, a source of contention among European allies, “cannot be certified at this time”.
Germany had previously resisted calls from the US and Britain, as well as Ukraine, to scrap the trans-Baltic pipeline over fears that Russia will use it as a geopolitical weapon.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had earlier on Tuesday demanded an immediate halt to Nord Stream 2 after Russia granted recognition to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered troops there in a so-called peacekeeping mission.
“These are very difficult hours and days for Europe,” said Scholz, who was meeting Irish leader Micheal Martin hours before the EU was set to unveil separate sanctions on Russia. He described Russia’s actions as a “grave breach of international law” but said diplomatic efforts would continue to prevent a further escalation.
Construction on Nord Stream 2 was completed last September but it needs approval from German regulators before it can go into operation. Scholz inherited the dilemma from his predecessor, Angela Merkel, who supported Nord Stream 2 and described it as purely an economic project.
He did not rule out a future opening date for the pipeline but said officials in Germany’s Economy Ministry would rewrite their analysis of Germany’s energy security in light of the latest developments.
Europe is under pressure to reduce its reliance on Russian gas for both political and environmental reasons, but Germany expects to rely on fossil fuel for an interim period as it switches off coal and nuclear plants.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Europe had not done enough on this front after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “We didn’t do enough as Europeans to wean ourselves off Russian hydrocarbons, off Russian oil and gas,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we cut the umbilicus, we snip the drip feed into our bloodstream from Nord Stream.”
Johnson was poised to announce a separate batch of sanctions on Tuesday after previously indicating that the UK would stop Russian companies raising money on London’s financial markets.