Germany mum on letter offering gas aid if US drops sanctions

BERLIN (AP) — The German government refused Wednesday to comment on a leaked letter indicating that it offered to help facilitate the import of U.S. liquefied natural gas if Washington dropped the threat of sanctions over a new subsea pipeline from Russia.

Germany’s finance minister allegedly wrote a letter to then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in August saying the German government was “willing to considerably increase its financial support for LNG infrastructure and import capacities by up to 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion)” if, in return, the United States “allows the unhindered construction and operation of Nord Stream 2.”

The letter was published this week by the group Environmental Action Germany and matches reports by Germany weekly Die Zeit last September that Berlin was seeking to fend off U.S. opposition to the pipeline by offering to boost imports of U.S. gas.

A German government spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter, saying any correspondence on the issue was confidential.

“The federal government is in contact with the U.S. government about the U.S. sanctions and the threat of sanctions relating to Nord Stream 2,” spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin.

Demmer added, however, that the government had “acted in a coordinated way” over the issue in the past — suggesting that other ministries and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been involved in the discussion.

The leak of the alleged letter is an embarrassment for Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is running to succeed Merkel in September’s national election. Scholz’s party, the center-left Social Democrats, have been outspoken in their support for Nord Stream 2 even as some other parties have edged away from the project in light of Germany’s strained ties with Russia over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the alleged killing in Berlin of a Georgian by a Russian government hitman, and the conflict in Ukraine.

Separately, comments by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier drawing a link between Nord Stream 2 and Germany’s debt over World War II have raised hackles in Ukraine and Poland.

Steinmeier had told daily Rheinische Post that Germany needed to keep in mind its eventful history with Russia. “There were phases of fruitful partnership, but even more times of terrible bloodshed,” he said, citing the 20 million people who died in the Soviet Union during World War II.

“That doesn’t justify mistakes in Russian policy today, but we mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture,” said Steinmeier.

German news agency dpa on Wednesday quoted a letter from Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, saying Steinmeier’s comments in an interview last week “hit us Ukrainians deep in the heart.”

Melnyk accused the German president, whose role is largely ceremonial, of ignoring the fact that millions of the Nazis’ Soviet victims were Ukrainians.

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