Germany could halt pipeline if Russia attacks Ukraine, Scholz signals
- Scholz meets NATO chief to discuss next stepson Russia
- NATO chief has invited allies, Russia to more meetings
- Scholz signals Germany could axe pipeline
BERLIN/MOSCOW, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Germany may consider halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia attacks Ukraine, Chancellor Olaf Scholz signalled on Tuesday, as pressure grew on his government to take a more hawkish stance on the Kremlin.
Scholz met NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Berlin to discuss the next steps after talks between Russia and Western states on the Kremlin's deployment of troops along Ukraine's border ended without a breakthrough last week.
Scholz has previously said Germany is open to sanctions in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine, with everything on the table - which would include the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany which is intended to bring more Russian gas to Western Europe.
Some observers say he is sending mixed signals by calling the pipeline, which has already been built but not yet approved for operation, a private commercial project that should not be singled out for sanctions.
His Social Democrats, the senior partner in a three-way government coalition, have historically been closer to Russia than other German parties, and Berlin is under pressure to find a way to fill its energy gap as it withdraws from coal and nuclear power production and becomes more green.
Opponents of Nord Stream 2, including Ukraine and the United States, say it will make Europe too dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
Responding to a question on Nord Stream 2, Scholz told reporters it was "clear that there will be a high price to pay and that everything will have to be discussed should there be a military intervention in Ukraine".
The fate of the project could ultimately be out of Germany's hands as it is subject to the approval of European Union regulators. The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said last week that approval was tied to any potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine.
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Stoltenberg said he had invited NATO allies and Russia to a further series of meetings at the NATO-Russia Council to discuss ways to improve the security situation, after an inconclusive first round of talks in two years last week.
"NATO's allies are prepared to discuss concrete proposals on how to reduce risks and enhance transparency regarding military activities and how to reduce space and cyber threats," he told a joint news conference with Scholz.
"We are also prepared to resume the exchange of briefings on exercises and our respective nuclear policies."
Russia denies plans to attack Ukraine. But Moscow says it could take unspecified military action if its demands - including a promise by the NATO alliance never to admit Kyiv - are not met.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier on Tuesday during a visit to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow that it was difficult not to assess Russia's military build-up near Ukraine's borders as "a threat."
Lavrov suggested Nord Stream 2 would add to both German and European energy security, saying Moscow "drew the attention of our German colleagues to the counter-productiveness of attempts to politicise this project."
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