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Germany’s ruling Social Democrats are facing fresh pressure over their ties to Moscow after accusations that a regional leader worked with Kremlin-backed energy giant Gazprom to undermine US sanctions and spread propaganda Russian.
The allegations relate to Manuela Schwesig, a prominent member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD party and premier of the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The state was the endpoint of the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, long championed by Berlin but canceled before it went into service as Russia prepared to invade Ukraine.
The political heat over Schwesig has grown since documents obtained by the Welt newspaper showed his government was cooperating closely with Nord Stream 2 AG, a Gazprom subsidiary, as it tried to complete the project in the face of sanctions. Americans. The documents showed that a foundation supported by the company and the regional government, supposed to defend environmental causes, was a way of circumventing the American measures.
The revelations are the latest reputational blow to the centre-left ruling party, which has already come under heavy fire for maintaining close ties with Russian energy interests in recent years, even after the government of President Vladimir Putin fomented war in eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea in 2014.
The policy of betting on cheap gas from Russia has also been promoted by longtime conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel. Nord Stream 2 was given the green light in 2015 by a “grand coalition” government made up of its Christian Democrats (CDU) and the SPD.
But politics has been strongly associated with the SPD, not least because former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder became a leading lobbyist for Russian energy companies and held senior positions in their ranks, including as chairman of the Nord Stream 2 shareholders’ committee. The Ukrainian government has also singled out German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an SPD stalwart and former foreign minister, for criticizing his role in strengthening energy ties close with Moscow.
Schwesig, long considered a rising star in her party, was another prominent supporter of Nord Stream 2. She apologized earlier this month for the stance, saying “holding on to Nord Stream was a mistake” – but that did not satisfy critics, especially as new details emerged about the extent of his government’s cooperation with the company.
Opposition lawmakers in the state capital, Schwerin, have called a commission of inquiry to look into the case and national politicians have joined the chorus of criticism in recent days.
“The entanglement between the Schwerin state government and the Russian state company Gazprom has always been disastrous and now needs to be finally cleared up,” said Omid Nouripour, co-leader of the Greens, which is part of the coalition. national government of Scholz. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.
“An ‘Oops, that must have been a mistake’ won’t be enough,” he said, referring to Schwesig’s apology.
Tips for tricks
Documents obtained by Welt apparently showed senior Schwesig government officials receiving instructions from Nord Stream 2 AG on changes to the draft texts and talking points from the media. They would also show that the company suggested “tricks” to circumvent US sanctions, such as using the environmental foundation to hire people who would actually work on finishing the pipeline.
Earlier this year, German outlet T-Online reported that Schwesig had held at least two meetings with Schröder in recent years for which there are no official records.
Green MP Anton Hofreiter, chairman of the Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, also strongly criticized Schwesig but called for a wider investigation into the political decisions surrounding the pipeline.
“The fact that the construction of Nord Stream 2 was decided only one year after the annexation of Crimea is a scandal,” Hofreiter told POLITICO.
“The grand coalition’s policy toward Russia was wrong and needs to be addressed,” Hofreiter continued. “This also includes the links between the Schwerin state government led by Manuela Schwesig and the Russian state-owned company Gazprom. This now requires a commission of inquiry. [at state level].”
The Greens, Liberal Democrats and CDU – all of which are in opposition in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – aim to launch such a panel next month.
Norbert Röttgen, a prominent CDU member of the Bundestag, even suggested on Monday that Schwesig resign: “If the facts described recently in the media are true, then Mrs. Schwesig cannot remain in office; it’s completely out of the question. he told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group.
Schwesig’s office did not respond to a request for comment.