Merkel in Poland: Ukraine to remain a transit country for Russian gas

Photo: AP German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) speaks with Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, Warsaw, 11 September.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to soothe fears over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on Saturday, on a farewell visit to Poland during which she also struck a conciliatory tone on Warsaw's conflict with the European Union over judicial reforms, news wires reported. "I have made clear that it is our concern that Ukraine remains a transit country for Russian gas," Merkel told reporters at a news conference with Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw.

Merkel is stepping down as German chancellor after federal elections on 26 September after 16 years in office.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, Merkel struck an agreement with the Biden administration that will allow Russia to complete a controversial gas pipeline to Germany. The pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2, will reroute Russian gas exports under the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine and depriving Kiev of nearly $2bn a year in transit revenue. Russia on 10 September announced that it had completed construction of Nord Stream 2. Polish President Andrzej Duda cancelled his meeting with Merkel shortly after Russia's announcement.

Ukraine and Poland vehemently oppose the project on the grounds that it is a national security threat, while Merkel has steadfastly supported it.

The US Congress has sided with Kiev and Warsaw, imposing two rounds of mandatory sanctions to stop its completion. However, the Biden administration in May agreed to waive some of those sanctions in an attempt to improve frayed ties with Germany, a key NATO ally. In exchange for the waiver, Berlin promised to invest in Ukraine's alternative energy sector and push the Kremlin to continue to export some gas through the country. Experts have expressed strong doubts that Russia would agree to continue to ship gas export through Ukraine once the pipeline is launched.

During her visit in Warsaw Merkel also  made a plea for dialogue as the way to resolve the dispute between the European Commission and Poland over the country's reforms to the judicial system, saying, "Politics is more than just going to court." Such talks may already be taking place, she said, but if not, Germany would back this as an approach. Poland's reforms of its justice system are at the core of a lengthy dispute between Brussels and Warsaw, with critics saying they undermine judicial independence. Meanwhile Poland's Constitutional Court is examining whether Polish law takes precedence over EU law.

PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Merkel also criticised the treatment of refugees fleeing crisis by the Belarusian leadership. The situation on Poland's border with Belarus is an issue of increasing concern in the EU. The governments of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have accused Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko of aiding refugees to reach the EU's external border in large numbers, in retaliation for EU sanctions on Minsk. Merkel described these as "hybrid attacks" that were targeting defenceless people from other countries. "I find this completely unacceptable," she said.

Next week Merkel will travel to Serbia, Albania and France.

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