Former Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to sell the gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, the Nord Stream 2, as a mere commercial agreement. But is not. Has huge geostrategic consequences, and the construction of every inch of pipe was a political and legal battle. After seven years, the gas pipeline is ready and Vladimir Putin ensures that as soon as the Germans give the go-ahead can start pumping 55,000 cubic meters a year. He would have a powerful weapon in his hands. 41% of the natural gas consumed by the European Union is imported from Russia and with NS2 it would increase to almost 50%.
The rest of Europe and the United States watch everything with suspicion and ask for more time to close a negotiation with the Kremlin for the possible invasion of Ukraine. Russia wants to use Nord Stream 2 to put pressure on NATO, the Western military agreement, and prevent the deployment of missiles on Ukrainian territory. It already has more than 100,000 soldiers and tens of thousands of tanks ready to cross the border again as it did with Crimea in 2014. The pipeline has become the most powerful weapon Putin has in his arsenal.
It is a colossal project that It crosses the Baltic Sea for 1,225 kilometers and its construction cost 11,000 million dollars.. Nord Stream 2 will double Russia’s gas exports to Germany, although it must first be approved by the German regulator and the European Commission, a process that could take months. Putin wants it to start working as soon as possible. You know that with the gas pipeline running you have the power to open or close the faucet of the fluid that warm this winter to 26 million Germans. It also subtracts benefits from Ukraine through whose territory the old Nord Tream 1 gas pipeline passes. The Kiev government receives a significant amount of money for allowing the passage of gas corresponds to more than 4% of its GDP. With the Nord Stream 2 you have no benefit.
This extraordinary engineering project financed by the giant Gazprom, the Russian energy company, was questioned from the moment it was presented in 2015. They argue that it is “the symbol of the restoration of the post-Soviet empire”, that they are enabling Putin “an instrument of blackmail”, and even some analysts compared it with “the disgraceful Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939” by which Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union agreed not to attack each other. The pact divided Central and Eastern Europe into “spheres of interest” and a week later, Germany invaded Poland.
“If Putin wants a new Yalta, a new border deal with Europe, then gas, and Europe’s dependence on Russian reserves, has become a means to achieve that.”wrote Patrick Wintour, the diplomatic editor of The Guardian. Others argue that Europe has many alternative sources of energy and that any threat from Moscow would not have the desired effect. The new German coalition government is divided on the pipeline. Both the new chancellor, the social democrat Olaf Scholz, and the foreign minister, the green Annalena Baerbock, they threaten not to authorize the gas pipeline if the Kremlin insists on its plan to re-invade Ukraine. On a brief trip to Poland, Scholz promised his government would do “whatever it takes” to ensure that natural gas continues to flow through Ukraine and to prevent Russia from using the new pipeline to blackmail its pro-Western neighbor.
The United States also pushed to halt construction of the pipeline until Joe Biden reached an agreement with Merkel. In December 2019, the US Congress imposed sanctions under the European Energy Security Protection Act (PEESA). This meant that construction of the pipeline was suspended for a year and a half, and the Swiss contractor in charge of the work withdrew. the then president Donald Trump told Merkel that she had to “stop feeding the beast”. At a NATO summit in 2018 he publicly complained: “Germany will have almost 70% of its country controlled by Russia with natural gas. Tell me, is that appropriate? We are supposed to be protecting ourselves from Russia and Germany is out there paying billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia.”
Initially, the Biden administration’s approach was one of continuity, copying the firm line taken by Trump and urging Europe not to make itself vulnerable to Russian energy blackmail. But in May, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, lifted sanctions against Nord Stream CEO Matthias Warnig, a close friend of Putin, explaining that he wanted to give diplomacy time to work. A few days later, Blinken said the pipeline was a fait accompli, and on July 21, a week after meeting with Merkel at the White House, Biden lifted all sanctions as a parting gift. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that had been stabbed in the back.
Because of the agreement reached by Merkel and Biden, Germany vowed to push to extend a Russian-Ukrainian gas transit deal for 10 years, as well as to contribute 175 million dollars to a new green fund for Ukraine to improve its energy independence with renewable energies. “Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine,” the joint statement said, “Germany will take action at the national level and will press for effective action at the European level, including sanctions, to limit Russian export capacity to Europe in the energy sector, including gas.” Amos Hochstein, Biden’s adviser for global energy security, justified the president’s pragmatism this way: “The idea of reaching the joint statement with Germany was acknowledge the reality of the completion of the pipeline itselfunderstanding that aggressive action by the United States would likely not have changed the outcome and might only have delayed it.”
The agreement left many injured along the way. In principle, the German Green Party, which is now part of the government and is totally opposed to the gas pipeline. And in Washington, several Republican senators such as the ultra-conservative Ted Cruz from Texas who was the author of the law that imposed the sanctions during the Trump Administration. “The gas pipeline was 95% complete in December 2019 when we approved the sanctions, and we stopped it. A pipeline that is 95% complete is as useless as if construction had not yet begun. And we saw, for a year, that he was still a piece of metal under the ocean until Biden was elected.” Furious, Cruz took revenge and stopped for months the appointment of 60 ambassadors proposed by the State Department. In the background, Biden managed to strengthen his alliance with Germany for what is its main foreign policy objective: confront chinese expansionism in the framework of its bid with Beijing over who is going to lead the world in the second half of the 21st century.
From that moment, everything started to get complicated. Russia began its military deployment on the border with Ukraine; gas prices in Europe had an unprecedented rise that almost doubled the price; and the Greens came to the German government to totally oppose the pipeline. also arose rumors about bribes involving former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, 77, who is the chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nordstream, the company that is officially in charge of the work. To ingratiate himself with the Russians, Schröder even questioned the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. The conservative German press began calling him “Putin’s errand boy.”
The truth is that Germany is caught in a dilemma. To meet their commitments to lower emissions of the gases that cause climate change, they need gas. “If we want to abandon nuclear energy and coal, we need gas at least during a transition period”, said Manuela Scheswig, a conservative German regional leader. And many agree with her beyond the fact that they do not agree with the project. It is impossible to get rid of nuclear power plants (the last three plants are scheduled to close by the end of this year), coal mines and gas supplies at the same time.
For now, the Nord Stream 2 is one of those heavy loads that can’t be removed or moved. It is there, ready to start trading. But before the gas can arrive to heat the houses of the frozen Germans, the conflict in Ukraine and the expansion of NATO will have to be resolved. A Russian invasion of its neighbor could leave the colossal engineering work like a great white elephant under the waters of the Baltic.
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