How to stop Nord Stream 2 and destroy Russian-German alliance bound with gas and corruption

Mykhailo Honchar
15:00, 14 December 2018
Economy
1851 0
Opinion

The European Parliament this week adopted a resolution condemning the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine. The document recognizes that the pipeline poses a threat to European energy security, and also calls for the halt to the Nord Stream 2 construction. It is important that this resolution coincided in time with that of the U.S. House of Representatives, also opposing the construction. It is also worth recalling that U.S. legislators in both chambers of Congress are considering bills related to sanctions over Nord Stream 2.

An almost simultaneous adoption of such resolutions will have a certain cumulative effect and further worsen the conditions for the project implementation by joint German-Austrian-Russian efforts.

The documents will not directly affect the project. However, they undoubtedly harmonize, organize and strengthen resistance to the pipeline, both on the part of the European community and on Washington's part. That's because both Europe and the U.S. have clearly understood that Nord Stream 2 is not just a gas pipe, it also symbolizes the emergence of new geo-economic and geopolitical realities - a kind of Russian-German alliance bound by gas and corruption.

Both Europe and the U.S. have clearly understood that Nord Stream 2 is not just a gas pipe, it also symbolizes the emergence of new geo-economic and geopolitical realities - a kind of Russian-German alliance bound by gas and corruption

It is most often noted that the Russian interest in the project is to sell as much gas as possible, while the German interest is to buy Russian gas at cheaper prices and sell it in Europe, and Austrian interest is similar to German. But in reality, a new phenomenon has emerged - an alliance of the three countries, whose project has not been completed yet, but it has already shaped European and Atlantic solidarity. Most in Europe, the United States and Canada have already realized that once this pipeline is built and operational, a completely new configuration will emerge in Europe. And then the North Atlantic Alliance will unlikely be able to carry out a mission of protecting its allies, for example, in the Baltic states, if they are subjected to Russian aggression. Against the background of what Russia is doing against Ukraine, also continuing their subversive activities in Europe, as well as in the wake of the latest Black Sea incident with Ukrainian ships, it is easy to conclude that Russia will further shift their aggressive and subversive actions onto the Baltic States. Under these circumstances, if there is a need for immediate aid, including military assistance, to the Baltic States, such NATO Allies as Germany will at the very least take its time to first "figure out" what is happening and whether there is in fact an act of Russian aggression, especially if it is "hybrid type," whether it is worth taking any real steps or it would be enough to express concern. At the very most, such allies would simply block any action aimed at counteracting Russia's aggressive behavior against the Baltics. This is something that is already making many in Europe anxious, as was evident from the outcome of the vote in the European Parliament. There, they are aware of the risks that have emerged, and now these are no longer risks but threats.

The European Parliament has never shown any support for Nord Stream 2, and neither had it any neutral attitude towards the project. There has always been clearly stated that the project does not meet the EU interests, especially against the backdrop of an Energy Union created in the EU as an energy solidarity mechanism.

Therefore, these resolutions – of the European Parliament and the United States – create a cumulative effect of pressure on the governments of several countries: to a greater extent – on those of Germany and Austria, and to the smaller – France and the Netherlands, who support the project, but not too pro-actively.

For an even greater cumulative effect, only one thing remains – for NATO to express their position.

After all, the project should be evaluated not only from the standpoint of business interests and energy security but also through the prism of military security, because we already know how Russia uses civilian infrastructure for military purposes. We saw this on the example of captured Ukrainian gas exploration and drilling platforms on the Black Sea shelf. After seizing them, Russia equipped them with hydro-acoustic intelligence devices for monitoring underwater movements in the north-western sector of the Black Sea. In this sector lies our main trade traffic, NATO warships enter the area, and military assistance is provided.

The European Parliament has never shown any support for Nord Stream 2, and neither it has had any neutral attitude towards the project. There has always been clearly stated that the project does not meet the EU interests, especially against the backdrop of an Energy Union created in the EU as an energy solidarity mechanism

Similarly, Russia has been using Nord Stream 1 in the interests of their intelligence efforts against NATO forces in the Baltic Sea.

Therefore, the emergence of another Nord Stream will mean that Russia will try to strengthen its military presence in the Baltic Sea, arguing that it is necessary to protect not only Russian economic interests, but also Russian-Germanic ones.

The Nov 25 incident near the Kerch Strait shows that Russia is using the emergence of new infrastructure as a pretext to increase own military presence. Once the Kerch Strait Bridge was built, there appeared a myth that Ukraine, NATO and the United States seek to destroy it. Accordingly, in order "not to allow this," Russia must protect the bridge. This was the pretext for an increase in the Russian grouping in the Azov Sea. Russia is showing who the master is there.

The same will be with the Baltic Sea. Washington has figured out this strategy, and so has Europe, although their political elites is largely corrupt. Therefore, both the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress are trying to direct European politicians, in particular, German and Austrian ones, towards a comprehensive assessment of threats.

In the end, all these collective efforts can ultimately have an impact – and the Nord Stream 2 project will halt. If NATO's position appears, the project will have no further prospects.

As we can see, the more a project is going forward, the greater the resistance to it. Russians and Germans suggested that, once they start building, everyone will perceive it as if the project had already been there in place. Actually, even here in Ukraine, many claimed that the project would succeed anyway so there is nothing to "break spears" and it is better to just get accustomed to new realities. This, in fact, was the idea of the Russian propaganda machine, as well as the entire Gazprom lobby in Europe.

However, we are also seeing that a systemic, albeit not always consistent, line of American pressure on European partners is still maintained. And the behavior of Putin's regime only contributes to blocking and further cessation of the project implementation. Had it not been for the Kerch Strait aggression, everyone would have taken a "pipe is being built and it can't be stopped" approach. But since Russia has dared to engage in aggressive actions against Ukraine, the question arose of how Russia can be stopped, because the existing sanctions may be uncomfortable for the Kremlin, but they don't stop Moscow. Besides, we are seeing that, despite sanctions, the volume of trade between Russia and the European Union is growing. This all added confidence to the Kremlin, as Moscow considered they could continue acting just as arrogantly and not to reckon with Europe's calls.

Therefore, it is logical that the United States has now come up with the idea of introducing a sanction regime for Russia, which they called "infernal sanctions." Before applying the mechanism of switching Russia off from SWIFT, they decided to mess with Putin's other toys: "Nord Stream-2", "Turkish Stream-2", etc. Why not hit them, really?

For many in Europe, sanctions against Russia in the form of a halt to Nord Stream 2 and the second pipe of the TurkStream are generally painless. They are painless even for those European countries that have trade relations with the Russian Federation. They are only painful for Germany and Austria, and even not for these countries as a whole, but for only three companies. In fact, the German government defends the interests of these three companies, one of which is already hesitating, whether it should continue participating in the project.

Therefore, it is logical that the United States has now come up with the idea of introducing a sanction regime for Russia, which they called "infernal sanctions." Before applying the mechanism of switching Russia off from SWIFT, they decided to mess with Putin's other toys: "Nord Stream-2", "Turkish Stream-2", etc. Why not hit them, really?

Therefore, I don't rule out that the Nord Stream 2 project may be terminated. And it's not because the German government will reconsider its approaches – it won't. The German government, wary of the growing pressure from all sides - both from Europe and from the United States, said that they have nothing to do with this because it is purely a "business project."

Thus, the said group of three companies is now practically a defenseless target for U.S. sanctions. I think that these companies will be considering very thoroughly, whether it is worth grabbing a shroud of dirty Putin money for the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 only to fall in the grinder of American sanctions.

So the moment of truth is approaching. The issue is now being solved: who is on whose side in this geopolitical configuration, where three players formed an informal alliance that split European and Euro-Atlantic solidarity. For Germany, relations with Russia have become more important now than those with partners from the EU and the U.S.

Mykhailo Honchar is an energy expert, President of the Strategy XXI Center

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