AP Interview: Poland welcomes new German doubts on pipeline

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s government welcomes signals that Germany might stop a controversial gas pipeline project over the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, a Polish deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.

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In an interview with The Associated Press, Paweł Jabłoński said it was good that some German politicians seem to have had a “wake-up call," adding that it was regrettable that “it required such a dreadful incident to take place.”

Navalny, a high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany last month after falling ill in Russia. German experts say tests show he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent, prompting the German government last week to demand that Russia investigate the case.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on the weekend that the Russian reaction could determine whether Germany changes its long-standing backing for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.

“It’s good it has not been overlooked this time -- at least it seems so after Heiko Maas’s reaction,” Jabłoński said.

Germany has long insisted that the pipeline is a commercial project and its industries badly need the gas that Russia can offer.

Poland, on the other hand, is among several countries, including the Baltic states, who fear that it will allow Russia to use its energy resources for political leverage over Europe, and particularly over Ukraine.

“Our position was clear and consistent all these years,” Jabłoński said. “We have been indicating that this is not only an economic project, it’s mostly a political project, and it can also be used as a military tool, as warfare, in case Putin would decide to stop the gas flowing through Ukraine.”

Jabłoński said that Poland is itself not dependent on Russian oil and gas anymore after working for years to develop other sources. It has done that with the construction of an LNG gas terminal on the Baltic coast that receives imported gas from the U.S. and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Poland is also constructing the Baltic Pipeline, which in a few years will bring Norwegian gas to Polish markets.

But he said it is in Poland’s strategic interest to have neighbors who are not subjugated to Russia. He said if Moscow succeeds in re-establishing some form of Soviet-style control over neighboring Belarus and Ukraine, then “this would be very dangerous for Poland.”

He spoke as Poland also faces a crisis across its border in Belarus, where mass street protests have been taking place since authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power for 26 years, claimed to have won an election last month widely viewed as rigged.

Warsaw has long advocated democratic change in Belarus, hoping for stability and democracy on its eastern border, that is also the eastern border of the European Union and NATO.

In recent weeks, Poland has been giving support to members of the Belarusian opposition. Dozens of Belarusian protesters have received treatment for injuries in Poland, while Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is due to meet on Wednesday in Warsaw with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger to Lukashenko who now lives in Lithuania.