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UKRAINE

Germany halts controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Germany on Tuesday put on ice the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline in response to Moscow's recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, finally halting the €10 billion project that has long irked allies.

Olaf Scholz
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) waits in the chancellory ahead of the Nord Stream 2 announcement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Berlin had over the years doggedly pursued the pipeline which was set to double natural gas import capacity from Russia, despite opposition from the United States and Eastern Europe which fear it would leave the continent too dependent upon Russian energy.

Through controversies that had weighed on German-Russian ties — from the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to several spying scandals to a series of cyberattacks, the German government had pushed on with the project, which was finally completed last year and was awaiting regulatory approval.

But hours after Putin’s decision on recognising separatists in eastern Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday he had asked for the approval process to be halted, despite a severe energy crisis that has sent gas prices soaring in Europe.

“That sounds technical, but it is the necessary administrative step so there can be no certification of the pipeline and without this certification, Nord Stream 2 cannot begin operating,” he said.

Germany will now begin a new assessment of how it can meet its energy requirements, he said. “The situation has fundamentally changed.”

The White House immediately hailed the decision, while Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it “a morally, politically and practically correct step in the current circumstances”.

Meanwhile Dmitry Medvedev, vice president of Russia’s council of security said Germany was just shooting itself in the foot.

“The German chancellor Olaf Scholz has asked to suspend the certification of Nord Stream 2… well, welcome to the new world where Europeans will soon pay €2,000 euros for 1,000 cm3 of gas,” he tweeted.

Earlier Tuesday Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky had demanded an immediate halt to Nord Stream 2, arguing that Russia was wielding the pipeline as a “geopolitical weapon”.

At a press conference in Berlin with visiting Irish prime minister Micheal Martin on Tuesday afternoon, Scholz warned Russia that a decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project was only one “concrete” step and that further sanctions could follow.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany has scuppered Nord Stream 2 but there are questions left to answer

“There are also other sanctions that we can introduce if further measures are taken, but for now, it’s a matter of doing something very concrete,” he told journalists.

However, he urged both Russian and Western leaders to keep talking in order to prevent a worsening of the situation in Ukraine.

As well as initial sanctions, continued diplomacy is “important to prevent a further escalation and thus a catastrophe” in the region, Scholz said.

“This is the objective of all our diplomatic efforts,” he said.

Rising tensions

The Nord Stream 2 project has long been a source of tension with Berlin’s allies, who have argued that it would give Moscow too much leverage by increasing Germany’s energy dependence.

Even as Russia massed over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, Scholz refused to utter the name of the pipeline when asked about possible sanctions against Russia.

Former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s involvement as chairman of the Nord Stream AG shareholders committee has also become a source of embarrassment for Germany as the West faces off with Russia in the worst crisis since the Cold War.

The mixed messaging over the gas pipeline had led NATO partners, including the United States, to question if Germany was on board as the West sought to hold off what it viewed as an expansionist Russia.

Nord Stream 2

Part of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin, Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

With doubts swirling, German ministers found themselves forced to reiterate repeatedly that they would indeed pull the plug on the pipeline should Russia march on Ukraine.

Kyiv, in conflict with Russia since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, has long been a critic of Nord Stream 2.

The pipeline bypasses Ukraine’s own infrastructure, depriving it of around a billion euros annually in gas transit fees and, Kyiv fears, removing a key check on potential Russian aggression.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has insisted that Nord Stream 2 poses a serious global security threat.

“We view this project exclusively through the prism of security and consider it a dangerous geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin,” he said last year.

READ ALSO:

What is Nord Stream 2?

Running from Russia’s Baltic coast to northeastern Germany, the 1,200-kilometre (745-mile) underwater Nord Stream 2 follows the same route as Nord Stream 1, which was completed over a decade ago.

Like its twin, Nord Stream 2 would be able to pipe 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year from Russia to Europe, increasing the continent’s access to relatively cheap natural gas at a time of falling domestic production.

Russian giant Gazprom has a majority stake in the €10 billion project. Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, France’s Engie, the Anglo-Dutch firm Shell and Austria’s OMV are also involved.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens)

Economy Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) at a press conference on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Pool | Roberto Pfeil

Europe’s top economy imports around 55 percent of its gas from Russia — up from 40 percent in 2012 — and believed the pipeline has a role to play in the transition away from coal and nuclear energy.

But it will now have to accelerate its build up of other energy sources — including importing LNG from elsewhere — in order to meet its energy needs.

Vice-Chancellor and Energy Minister Robert Habeck admitted on Tuesday that there will be “consequences in terms of energy policy, geopolitics and strategy” for Germany.

“We will not forget this winter anytime soon,” Habeck said.

READ ALSO: How will the Nord Stream 2 freeze affect Germany’s gas supplies and prices?

By Femke Colborne

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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