Concealment of Russian influences? The most important facts about Manuela Schwesig and Nord Stream 2

How closely did the state government in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania work with the Russian-controlled company Nord Stream 2? What political help was there for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Schwerin? Manuela Schwesig, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s SPD Prime Minister, has been in serious trouble in the past few days – the most important questions and answers.

The prime minister becomes too close to the company Nord Stream 2, which is owned by the state gas company Gazprom. From the point of view of the Greens, CDU and FDP, the state government she led – it was in a coalition with the CDU until mid-November, since then it has been in a coalition with the left – pursued policies that were too pro-Russian. It is primarily about the state-owned foundation “Climate and Environmental Protection MV” – a construct that should protect Russia’s interests from US sanctions.

The foundation was set up by Schwesig and her government in early 2021 – at a time when further punitive measures against Nord Stream 2 were being discussed in Washington. Officially, it should support climate projects. At the same time, however, she had an economic contract run by Nord Stream, which was intended to support the completion of the gas pipeline while circumventing US sanctions.

As has now become known, Nord Stream 2 AG – a company registered in Switzerland – was also directly involved in the preparations for the state foundation.

Why is the foundation so problematic?

The non-governmental organization Transparency Germany suspects violations of transparency requirements and the Money Laundering Act at the foundation. The organization accuses the Schwesig government of concealing donors. The Gazprom decision-makers behind Nord Stream 2 AG would therefore have to be entered in the foundation’s register because of their considerable influence over the foundation.

Nord Stream invested 20 million euros in seed capital in the foundation in 2021, and the state government contributed 200,000 euros. For transparency, the foundation is in a “clear dependent relationship” with Nord Stream AG “and ultimately with the Russian Federation”.

The building of the district court in which it was decided whether the Climate Foundation MV details about the work of its business…Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa

Apart from that, there is now also the suspicion of tax evasion: As the magazine “Cicero” reports, the 20 million euro donation for the foundation should actually have been taxed. But the tax returns are said to have been lost.

Since the foundation is not non-profit, a tax of 50 percent would be due, i.e. ten million euros. A donation would have to be reported to the tax office within three months, otherwise there is a risk of investigations into tax evasion.

How much influence did Nord Stream 2 have on the state government?

From the files that the State Chancellery had to hand over to the transparency organization “FragDenStaat” upon request under the Freedom of Information Act, it becomes clear how demanding the company was.

The “Zeit” reports that the Gazprom subsidiary had already asked for “political support” in 2016 when it came to the approval process for the billion-dollar pipeline project. At that time, Schwesig’s predecessor, Erwin Sellering, was still in office. He later became the foundation’s chairman and is known for his Moscow-friendly course.

In a presentation that Nord Stream 2 sent to the responsible energy ministry in Schwerin, it says: “A corresponding cabinet decision is desirable in the current legislative period.”

In addition, the Ministry of Energy advertised two positions for the Stralsund Mining Authority as the responsible approval authority in order to be able to meet Nord Stream 2 AG’s schedule. In an interview with the newspaper “Zeit”, the Energy Minister responsible at the time, Christian level (SPD), apparently sees no problem in this – such job creations are normal for projects of this dimension, he said.

A sign with the inscription Nord Stream 2 hangs on a container from an information point for the gas pipeline in the Lubmin industrial park…Photo: Stefan Sauer/dpa

With a view to the foundation’s preparations,pelle admitted that he was in regular contact with Nord Stream 2 while working on the statutes – and incorporated the company’s wishes. The talks also addressed the question of how a protective shield can be put in place for companies threatened by US sanctions. Nord Stream had its own contact person with whom the sanctions legislation against companies involved in pipeline construction had been repeatedly evaluated, saidleve.

Talks were also confirmed by Schwesig, but she denies that Nord Stream 2 was in charge of the foundation.

Research by “Welt am Sonntag” shows how intensively the company then wanted to have an effect.. Accordingly, Nord Stream proposed to hire a representative to infiltrate background talks with journalists. It is said that one should not have gone into this.

What consequences has the Prime Minister promised?

Shortly after the start of the Russian war of aggression, Schwesig spoke of numerous steps towards a different policy towards Russia. Not only did she initially announce the dissolution of the controversial foundation, she also asked the association “German-Russian Partnership in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania” to stop its work.

However, according to NDR research, the Ministry of Finance approved a tranche of “start-up financing” of 600,000 euros for the association almost four weeks later.

The association is also linked to Sellering, Schwesig’s predecessor and mentor, who chairs the board. It was also his initiative to found the association in 2018. The goal was: “To promote an understanding of Germany in Russia as well as an understanding of Russia in Germany”.

The most important facts about Nord Stream 2:

  • Construction of the approximately 1,200-kilometer Russian-German line began in 2018.
  • Nord Stream 2 runs parallel to the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which was completed in 2011.
  • Threats of sanctions from the USA delayed the construction of the new pipeline.
  • Nord Stream 2 was also completed in 2021 with the help of a foundation set up by Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
  • However, as a reaction to Russia’s war against Ukraine, the gas pipeline was not granted an operating license.

The Greens in the federal government spoke out in favor of an immediate dissolution of the climate foundation on Friday. “Nord Stream is dead. Now you can dissolve the state foundation immediately,” said Federal Chairman Omid Nouripour on Deutschlandfunk. He hopes this will happen “as soon as possible”.

Why can’t Manuela Schwesig just dissolve the foundation?

There is still a legal dispute about the dissolution of the foundation. It is also unclear whether the foundation contribution – as advocated by the state parliament – ​​can be used for humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

In addition, Schwesig, as reported by “Zeit”, now has a problem with the board of directors Sellering. In a message on the foundation’s website, he points out legal reasons that make it impossible to dissolve the foundation.

At the same time, he argues with the aspect of climate protection: “The foundation immediately stopped all activities for the pipeline and handles the economic business operations. However, we are critical of the fact that we should now simply stop the important work in climate and environmental protection. This seems pointless because, unlike the ‘off’ for the pipeline, it would have no effect whatsoever on Putin’s Russia and its ability to continue this war.”

In 2017, Manuela Schwesig was replaced by predecessor Erwin Sellering at the SPD special party conference after her election as…Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa

Weeks ago, Schwesig admitted that your support for the Russian gas pipeline was a mistake. It was clear that after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s relationship with Russia had changed, she explained.

How does the Prime Minister react to the allegations?

After the allegations in connection with the foundation and the ongoing criticism, she went on the offensive – and referred to the broad political consensus for the project. “For many decades, Germany has relied heavily on natural gas from Russia for its energy supply,” she explained. The project was always supported by the federal government from Union and SPD. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) recently even negotiated personally with US President Biden.

She sees no reason to give up her position: “Six months ago there was a state election in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, and the citizens confirmed me in my office with a large majority, with a strong vote by the citizens,” she said on Thursday at a meeting of the North German state governments in Kiel.

Schwesig (SPD) visits the gas landing station of Nord Stream 2 with the Russian Ambassador in Berlin.Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa

While the Union in the federal government continues to call for their resignation, the spokesman for the East regional group of the SPD parliamentary group, Frank Junge, backed Schwesig. The CDU’s demands for resignation would “not only sound far-fetched, but also mendacious,” he told the “Rheinische Post”.

The factions of the CDU, Greens and FDP in the Schwerin state parliament want to clarify the cause. In May, a parliamentary committee of inquiry is to be set up into Schwesig’s and the SPD’s long-standing contacts with the Russian state-owned company Gazprom. In addition, one wants to deal with the exact circumstances of the foundation and work of the foundation “Climate and Environmental Protection MV”. (with agencies)

By Editor

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