Merkel reassures on Russian gas pipeline, Ukraine calls for more clarity

By Andreas Rinke and Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday assured Ukraine would not suffer from the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, but Ukraine said talks about its future as a transit country were vague .

On her last visit to Kiev before retiring as Chancellor next month, Merkel said “gas should not be used as a geopolitical weapon” by Russia and that Germany could impose new sanctions in Moscow if necessary.

“It is important that Ukraine remains a land of transit,” she said after talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. She called for the existing transit agreement between Ukraine and Russia to be extended beyond its expiration in 2024, adding that Germany would support Ukraine’s gradual transition to renewable energy.

Germany has provided financial aid and diplomatic support to Ukraine since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of war in the eastern Donbass region between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces. Russia the same year.

But Kiev has fiercely opposed a deal between Berlin and Washington on Nord Stream 2, which will transport gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. The administration of US President Joe Biden has not attempted to end the project with sanctions, as Ukraine has been pushing for it.

Zelenskiy’s government sees the pipeline as a threat to European security.

“I believe it is a weapon. I think that not to notice that it is a dangerous weapon, not only for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe, is a error, “Zelenskiy said at a joint press briefing.

“Regarding continued transit through Ukraine after 2024, I think so far these things are too general.”

Merkel’s visit comes two days after meeting President Vladimir Putin on his last official visit to Russia, where she also insisted to Putin on Ukraine’s status as a transit country.

Putin told reporters that Moscow was ready to extend the transit deal beyond 2024 but needed more details.

Merkel also wants more progress in the peace talks on eastern Ukraine and on Sunday called for “Norman-style” negotiations between the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine.

“It would allow progress, in my opinion,” she said. “I’m glad Zelenskiy said he would be willing to do it.”

The agreement between the United States and Germany included a commitment to help Ukraine continue to collect transit fees once Nord Stream 2 becomes operational.

But the head of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Naftogaz Yuriy Vitrenko told Reuters last month he did not believe Russia would continue to pass gas through Ukraine beyond 2024.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Kirsti Knolle in Berlin; writing by Tom Sims and Matthias Williams; editing by David Clarke and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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