Now that Germany has agreed with France and other member states on new EU regulations for the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, the German government is wrong if it believes that they have satisfied critics.
Berlin has, from the beginning, underestimated the damage this project would do to its image. Its support for Nord Stream 2 demonstrates how the German government puts the national interest ahead of European and international strategic questions, thereby hurting its credibility in the long-term, according to Berlin Policy Journal.
Amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and with the help of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the discussion about Germany and the EU’s energy independence from Russia has continued to intensify since 2014. The German government claimed for years that this was a purely commercial endeavor. But then in April 2018, at a meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Chancellor Angela Merkel recognized for the first time that the political factors surrounding Nord Stream 2 also had to be taken into account.
The objectives and repercussions of Nord Stream 2 go beyond Germany and run counter to German and EU interests, the publication notes.
Nord Stream 2, just as Turk Stream, is meant to make the Ukrainian transit-pipeline system superfluous, thereby punishing Kyiv for its pro-EU stance. At the same time, the pipeline allows Russia creating dependencies with EU businesses and politicians at the local and national levels.
Big infrastructure projects implemented jointly with European companies stabilize Putin's system, based on loyalty through corruption, because the Russian firms involved in construction are owned by people close to the Russian president. The economic cost, then, no longer matters.
The consequences for Ukraine are the loss of transit fees worth EUR 3 billion a year and, even more importantly, the loss of a bargaining chip against possible Russian aggression. That can have an effect on the security-policy stability of the Sea of Asov and the Black Sea. If Nord Stream 2 is built by the end of the year, the Kremlin could take it as a signal to conquer the land bridge between Crimea and the Russian mainland and further expand its military activities at Ukraine’s southern ports.
While German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas seeks to be more considerate of central and eastern European neighbors in the framework of his new European Ostpolitik, the support for Nord Stream 2 is a glaring contradiction. If the German government wants to bring peace to the conflict in Donbas and stabilize and support reforms in Ukraine in the long-term, it is doing exactly the opposite with this policy. If the cohesion of the EU is a strategic goal of Berlin, then it shouldn’t weaken the EU’s Energy Union. Here is a shortage of foresight and strategic depth in a country that has been discussed as the leading power in Europe and promotes multilateralism as Angela Merkel did at the Munich Security Conference recently.
There is no more “comfort zone Europe”. The longer German elites deny international realities and fail to seriously work towards a strategic realignment of their policies on Russia, China, and the U.S., the more irrelevant Germany and the EU will become in the strategic power competition of the multipolar world order. Russia is a strategic adversary that is trying to weaken the EU from within as well as in its neighborhood. The EU is no longer a development model for the Russian elite; from a Russian perspective it seems incapable of action. Why make concessions to a weak opponent if those concessions help secure the opponent’s financial survival? Now the task of the German foreign policy elite is to fill the strategic vacuum. The fight over Nord Stream 2 was supposed to be an opportunity to fundamentally rethink things and get out of this dead-end. Only a realigned European Union with a Germany that is capable of action will be able to meet today’s global challenges, the publication says.