Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday that Germany would halt certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that would link his country with Russia, one of the strongest moves yet by the West to punish the Kremlin for recognizing two separatist regions in Ukraine.
The German leader’s announcement came hours after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered armed forces to the separatist regions, the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Germany’s allies in Europe and the United States had been pressing Mr. Scholz for weeks to state publicly that the $ 11 billion pipeline, which was completed late last year and runs from Russia’s coast to northern Germany under the Baltic Sea, would be at risk of being blocked in the event of a Russian move against Ukraine.
“The situation today is fundamentally different,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “That is why we must re-evaluate this situation, in view of the latest developments. By the way, that includes Nord Stream 2. “
Ukraine’s government welcomed Germany’s decision. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it “A morally, politically and practically correct step in the current circumstances.”
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said that Russia regretted the decision “because we’ve been reiterating this project has nothing to do with politics. And shouldn’t have. This is a purely economical, commercial project which, on top of mutual benefit, is meant to be a stabilizing factor for European gas market. “
Since November, the amount of natural gas arriving in Germany from Russia has plunged, driving prices through the roof and draining reserves, leaving all of Europe in an energy crunch. The pipeline, which is owned by a subsidiary of Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy behemoth, has been filled with natural gas but had not gone online, pending approval from a German regulator.
The pipeline had been certified by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government before she left office, the last step before the project was passed on to the regulator, who had said that the project might be approved as early as midyear.
But Tuesday’s announcement rescinds the previous government’s approval, and the project will now be re-examined under Mr. Scholz’s economy ministry, which is led by a member of the environmentalist Greens party. Since taking office, both Mr. Scholz and his minister have stressed the importance of diversifying Germany’s energy sources away from the heavy dependence on Russian natural gas.
Last year, Russian gas accounted for nearly 27 percent of the energy consumed in Germany, according to government figures, an increase that was expected to continue after the country shutters its last three nuclear power plants, scheduled in December, and works to phase out coal -burning power plants by 2030.
A full two-thirds of the gas Germany burned last year came from Russia.
Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.