German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier has cautioned against linking Moscow's treatment of jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
In remarks published on February 7 by the Bild am Sonntag newspaper, Altmaier voiced support for continuing construction of the nearly finished pipeline.
"Business relationships and business projects that have existed for decades are one thing and serious human rights violations and our reactions to them are another," Altmaier said.
He was echoing remarks on February 5 by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who also said she did not want to see the two issues conflated.
Navalny was sentenced on February 2 to nearly 3 1/2 years in prison after a Moscow court ruled he had violated the terms of his parole, a charge he rejected.
The 44-year-old anti-corruption crusader was arrested on January 17 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was treated for a nerve-agent poisoning that he says was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
More than 1,400 people were detained by police in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities after the court ruling on February 2. More than 10,000 were rounded up by police during nationwide protests in more than 100 Russian towns and cities on January 23 and January 31.
Rattled by some of the biggest anti-government protests in years, Moscow has accused the West of hysteria and double standards over Navalny and told it to stay out of its internal affairs.
Meanwhile, the company behind the Nord Stream 2 project said on February 6 that it was continuing construction of the gas pipeline, laying pipes south of the Danish island of Bornholm.
The company said that the work was proceeding in line with permits that have been issued.
The pipeline-laying vessel Fortuna started work in the Danish exclusive economic zone on January 24, and after testing and preparation has begun construction, the company said.
The pipeline is intended to carry 100 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year from Russia to Germany, but work was halted in December following the threat of sanctions from the United States.
Washington opposes the effort to bypass Ukraine in delivering gas to Europe, denying Kyiv a lucrative source of revenue. The United States has also said the pipeline will increase dependence on Russia for energy supplies, with President Joe Biden calling Nord Stream 2 a "bad deal for Europe."
About 150 kilometers of pipe transiting Danish and German waters must be laid to complete pipeline controlled by the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom.
On February 5, Merkel said Berlin would continue to support the completion of the pipeline despite Russia's recent crackdown on anti-government protesters and Moscow's expulsion of European diplomats from Russia.