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Angela Merkel heads to Russia for pipeline talks

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel will fly to the Russian resort of Sochi today for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The project could double the amount of natural gas Russia can funnel to the heart of Europe from newly tapped reserves in Siberia, but this is not going down well with Washington.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary Sandra Oudkirk, an energy policy expert in the State Department, said the US opposes the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline because it could increase Russia’s “malign influence” in Europe.

“We would be delighted if the project did not take place,” she told reporters in Berlin.

Ms Oudkirk said the new pipeline would divert gas flows away from Ukraine, which depends heavily on transit fees, and could become a pathway for Russia to install surveillance equipment in the Baltic Sea, a sensitive military region.

“We are exerting as much persuasive power as we possibly can” to stop the project, she said, observing that Congress has given the US administration explicit authority to impose sanctions in connection with Russian pipeline projects if necessary.

“Any pipeline project — and there are many multiple pipeline projects in the world that are potentially covered by this sanctions authority — is in an elevated position of sanctions risk,” she warned.

While Ms Merkel has taken a hard line over what Berlin considers hostile Russian actions in recent years, Germany badly needs to secure its gas supply and calculated that Nord Stream 2 offers the best deal.

She sent her Economy Minister Peter Altmaier to Moscow and Kiev this week in an effort to secure a deal that would keep some gas flowing through Ukraine, which currently earns up to €2 billion a year from transit fees.

Mr Altmaier expressed optimism that a “substantial” amount of gas will flow through Ukraine in the future.

Ms Merkel shares the irritation of other EU leaders about US President Donald Trump’s unilateral announcement that he would be withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, of which Russia and Germany are both signatories, and his expectation that Washington’s European allies would fall in line with his decision.

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