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Merkel Reiterates Support For Ukraine’s Gas Transit Role During Farewell Visit To Poland

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) speaks with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the Palace on the Isle in Royal Lazienki Park in Warsaw on September 11.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Ukraine must remain a transit country for Russian natural-gas exports during her final tour of European capitals before leaving office.

"I have made clear that it is our concern that Ukraine remains a transit country for Russian gas," Merkel told reporters at a news conference with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on September 11 in Warsaw.

Merkel is stepping down as German chancellor after federal elections on September 26 after 16 years in office.

In the weeks leading up to her departure, Merkel struck an agreement with the Biden administration that will allow Russia to complete a controversial gas pipeline to Germany.

The pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2, will reroute Russian gas exports under the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine and depriving Kyiv of nearly $2 billion a year in transit revenue.

The project has divided Europe.

Ukraine and Poland vehemently oppose the project on the grounds that it is a national security threat, while Merkel has steadfastly supported it.

The U.S. Congress has sided with Kyiv and Warsaw, imposing two rounds of mandatory sanctions to stop its completion.

However, the Biden administration in May agreed to waive some of those sanctions in an attempt to improve frayed ties with Germany, a key NATO ally.

In exchange for the waiver, Berlin promised to invest in Ukraine's alternative energy sector and push the Kremlin to continue to export some gas through the country.

Experts have expressed strong doubts that Russia would agree to continue to ship gas export through Ukraine once the pipeline is launched.

Russia currently occupies Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and is backing separatist fighters in two regions in eastern Ukraine.

Russia on September 10 announced that it had completed construction of Nord Stream 2.

The project now awaits certification -- which could take several months -- before it can begin pumping gas to Germany.

Polish President Andrzej Duda cancelled his meeting with Merkel shortly after Russia's announcement.

The presidential office in Warsaw said that Duda would instead be in Katowice on September 11 for celebrations marking the anniversary of the Solidarity labor union.

Relations between Germany and Poland have been cool since the nationalist Law and Justice party took power in 2015, although top German officials had tried to thaw relations during repeated visits in recent years.

During her visit to Warsaw, Merkel is also expected to discuss migration from Europe's eastern borders -- and particularly, the situation on Poland's eastern border with Belarus.

The issue is of increasing concern in the European Union.

The governments of Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia have accused Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka of pushing large numbers of refugees from the Middle East across the Polish border in retaliation for EU sanctions against Minsk.

Officials said Morawiecki and Merkel also want to discuss developments in the coronavirus pandemic and the future of the EU.

Merkel's talks with the Polish prime minister also will cover the Polish COVID-19 National Recovery Plan, which has not been approved by Brussels because of concerns over Warsaw's commitment to the rule of law.

Poland, along with Hungary, is embroiled in a long-running dispute with the EU over a number of issues, including judicial independence, press freedoms, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

The conflict recently intensified when Brussels took legal action against Warsaw and Budapest. Both have lashed out at the holdup of the stimulus plans as ideologically motivated and unconstitutional.

Merkel's farewell visit to Warsaw comes two weeks ahead of Germany's federal elections, which will draw the curtain on her 16 years in power.

Merkel's one-day visit to Poland began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw -- an act of remembrance and remorse for Nazi Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland that started World War II.

Her tour will continue next week when she travels to Serbia, Albania, and France.

She is to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on September 13 before meeting representatives of civil society from a range of Balkan states in the Serbian capital, her spokesman announced on September 10.

Merkel is scheduled to travel to Tirana on September 14 for talks with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama. She will also have discussions in Tirana on regional cooperation with the heads of government of six countries in the region.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, and Deutsche Welle
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