Naftogaz says NATO-Russia talks should prioritize Nord Stream 2

The CEO of Ukrainian energy giant Naftogaz said it was absurd that Nord Stream 2 was not among the top priorities for international talks with the Kremlin, reiterating his call for more sanctions on the gas pipeline to deter any further Russian incursion.

His comments come shortly after the NATO-Russia Council meeting on Wednesday. This is the second high-level meeting this week between Western officials and Russia after high-level talks between the United States and Kremlin officials on Monday. Another meeting is being held at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

Talks are taking place to try to defuse the crisis sparked by the mass gathering of Russian forces near Ukraine, although the way forward remains unclear, and Moscow has warned that the situation is “extremely dangerous”.

Speaking to Hadley Gamble on CNBC in Kiev, Ukraine on Thursday, Naftogaz CEO Yuri Vitrenko said he was surprised to see that Nord Stream 2 did not appear to be a central part of the discussions.

“It’s really hard to understand how this could go unnoticed or carry no consequences? This is something that has to come first, so first Nord Stream 2 must be punished,” Vitrenko said. .

“And for example, if someone wants to discuss some additional measures if there is additional aggression from the Russian side, they should talk about Nord Stream 1. Therefore, I am not saying that Nord Stream 2 is the only thing that should be on the agenda, but it should That comes first to show that the West is serious.”

Then Vitrenko said a set of additional sanctions should be prepared if Russia wanted to invade Ukraine.

Demonstration of piping systems and closing devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline.

Stephen Sauer | Image Alliance | Getty Images

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is not yet operational, is designed to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and Poland. The $11 billion project is owned by Russia’s state-backed energy giant Gazprom and seeks to double the existing capacity of the Nord Stream 1 project.

Critics argue that the pipeline does not align with European climate goals, deepens the region’s dependence on Russian energy exports, and is likely to enhance the economic and political influence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the region.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who is leading the US delegation at various talks this week, told reporters on Wednesday that Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine will play a major role in the gas pipeline’s fate.

“From our point of view, it is very difficult to see gas flowing through the pipeline or becoming operational if Russia renews its aggression against Ukraine,” Sherman said shortly after the NATO-Russia Council.

However, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned against linking Nord Stream 2 to the escalating tensions between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine.

“We need to resolve this conflict, we need to resolve it in talks – this is the opportunity we have at the moment, and we should use it instead of linking projects that have nothing to do with this conflict,” Lambrecht said. German broadcaster RBB reported on Thursday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that Nord Stream 2 was a “commercial project,” echoing Putin’s comments to CNBC in October last year. Peskov also said it would be “absurd” to link the gas pipeline to the escalating tensions between Russia and Europe.

Russian incursion into Ukraine ‘somewhat likely’

Ukraine, the former Soviet republic that is considered a border between Russia and the rest of Europe, has ambitions to join the European Union and perhaps even become a member of the Western Military Alliance of NATO.

Russia strongly opposes this possibility. The Kremlin demanded that the United States prevent further eastward expansion of NATO and should not allow the former Soviet Union countries to join the alliance.

Kiev’s relations with Russia declined in 2014 after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

On Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the group’s “open door policy” and the right of each country to choose its own security arrangements. He said both Russia and NATO were ready to resume talks after a “very serious and direct exchange” on the situation in and around Ukraine.

Vitrenko told CNBC Thursday that a Russian incursion into Ukraine seemed “fairly likely,” before adding that he still hoped the West would stand firm against any possible act of aggression.

Asked whether US officials should take a tougher stance with their Russian counterparts, he said, “I am not in a position to teach the US government how to conduct its international negotiations again.”

“My personal experience in dealing with Putin is that you can only get him to do the right thing if you are ready to confront Russia,” he added. “So they only understand strong positions in negotiations, so unless you are prepared to show that you have a strong position [and] Prepare in advance, you have no chance of beating Putin.”

CNBC’s Holly Eliat contributed to this report.

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