The controversial Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is on the way to becoming a very useful tool to put pressure on Russia in the face of the threat of a new invasion of Ukrainian territory. The new German Government is showing much more firmness than Angela Merkel’s Executive when it comes to putting conditions into operation of this infrastructure designed to carry Russian gas through the bed of the Baltic Sea directly to Germany without passing through Ukraine , a traditional country of transit for hydrocarbons. Both the Chancellor, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, and the Foreign Minister, the green Annalena Baerbock, are threatening more or less veiled not to authorize the gas pipeline if the Kremlin violates the borders of the former Soviet republic.
After Paris and Brussels – the first visits of any new German chancellor – Scholz briefly traveled to Poland this weekend and promised that his government will do “whatever it takes” to ensure that natural gas continues to flow through Ukrainian territory and to prevent Russia from using the new pipeline to blackmail its pro-Western neighbor. The content of her statements is not so striking – Angela Merkel promised to do so – as the moment in which she said these words. And the place. Warsaw has been warning against building the infrastructure for years and lobbying Brussels to prevent it from operating. Scholz assured that Germany feels responsible for ensuring that the gas transit business continues to provide income to the Ukrainian economy.
The Chancellor has been warning Russia for days that respect for the borders is something “unquestionable” for Germany, referring to the presence of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine and the reports of Western intelligence services about a possible invasion. He has also spoken of “consequences”, although without specifying which ones. Washington has been clearer. US President Joe Biden last week threatened Putin with heavy economic sanctions and with the stoppage of Nord Stream 2. US media have published that the US and Germany have agreed to cancel the gas pipeline if the invasion occurs, something that Germany has not officially confirmed.
Scholz’s spokesman limited himself on Monday to recalling that the German position on infrastructure is the one agreed by the three members of the tripartite in the coalition agreement. Nord Stream 2 must be regulated “according to community law,” he added. For now, the gas pipeline is paralyzed precisely for failing to comply with regulatory issues. In mid-November, when the tension between Russia and the West due to troop movements had already started and in the midst of the crisis on the border between the EU and Belarus, an ally of Moscow, the German regulator temporarily suspended the certification process. The owner company had to create a German subsidiary to operate in Europe according to EU laws.
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Annalena Baerbock was clearer than Scholz. The newly released Foreign Minister spoke on public television on Sunday against the rapid commissioning of the gas pipeline. Her party, The Greens, has always opposed the project while Merkel’s grand coalition government – with the Social Democrats as junior partner – supported it. Despite the obvious geopolitical interest in the infrastructure, the previous chancellor argued that it was a private business. The Nord Stream 2 “does not meet the requirements of the European energy law and security problems remain to be resolved,” said the foreign minister. “In its current situation, it cannot be approved,” he added. His emphaticness and the moment chosen to deliver this message is a hardening of the rhetoric against Russia and a veiled form of threat.
For some analysts, such as Jens Münchrath, of the economic newspaper HandelsblattWhat was once a Merkel-era “gross foreign policy mistake” could now be exploited to try to dissuade Putin. The United States and Germany agreed to end their dispute over the pipeline last summer. Biden reversed the policy of his two predecessors, opposed to Russia increasing its energy influence over the continent. Washington refused to impose sanctions in exchange for a German commitment to shut off supplies if Russia used energy as a weapon.
The pipeline, which has the capacity to supply 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe every year, was completed in September. Germany hoped to have this entry of hydrocarbon – relatively cheap, except in the current price crisis – to use as transitional energy. The Government intended to ensure supply to the industry while improving the capacity of renewables in the face of the energy neutrality that it wants to achieve in 2045. Currently, 41% of the natural gas consumed by the European Union is imported through gas pipelines from Russia.