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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“A gas noose on the neck of Europe”

Why does Germany insist on building Nord Stream 2 despite strong resistance from East European countries and possible US sanctions?
24 May, 2018 - 11:06
Sketch by Viktor BOGORAD

The situation surrounding the construction of Nord Stream 2 clearly demonstrates the duplicitous approaches of the EU, in particular one of the union’s leading countries – Germany. The Baltic States and Poland, as well as Ukraine, have made a lot of statements to the effect that this project is contrary to the national interests of the Eastern European EU member states, and also threatens the energy security of Europe. On the one hand, it only increases the EU’s dependence on one source and route of natural gas supply and is at odds with the EU’s Third Energy Package. On the other hand, it looks like such lofty terms as EU solidarity and common values are actually empty words not only for German business, but also for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supports this project considering it purely economic in nature, while the general consensus of international experts, the US administration and many EU countries is that it is a geopolitical measure. And moreover, the construction of Nord Stream 2, as director of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Energy and Natural Resources Sandra Oudkirk said in an interview with The Day, aimed at rerouting gas transit away from Ukraine and increasing the EU’s dependence on one source and supply route of the “blue fuel.”

And it is unlikely that anyone can feel reassured by the words of Chancellor Merkel, who said at a press conference in Sochi after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin that gas transit through Ukraine needed to be maintained in the future, even after Nord Stream 2 is built. On the other hand, how can one believe the Kremlin’s assurances that gas deliveries through Ukraine will continue in the future if they will be “economically feasible and viable for economic operators”? After all, all the actions of the Russian leadership, beginning with the war in Georgia and continuing with the illegal annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, and fomenting the Syrian conflict, testify that Russia violates all international treaties and norms of international law all the time.

And it seemed to us that in its relations with the Kremlin, Europe should have proceeded precisely from the assumption that Russia is a violator of international treaties and behaved accordingly. Interestingly, the French philosopher Andre Glucksmann wrote in a Le Monde article entitled “Confronting the Putin Doctrine” (https://www. lemonde.fr/ idees/article/ 2008/09/17/ face-a-la-doctrine-vladimir-poutine-par-andre-glucksmann_ 1096224_3232. html) in September 2008 that firmness on the part of Europe was the best way of confronting Russia. “Will Europe choose to commit suicide by gas and cave to the Putin doctrine? Or will it hold firm and resist?” were the ending words of his article.

And at the end of September 2008, Glucksmann admitted in a conversation with Ukrainian journalists that “Russian gas is a noose made out of a Bickford fuse on our neck,” and explained that this was due to the efforts of the then German chancellor, who before leaving office, assured the Russians that the construction of Nord Stream would proceed and thereby “murdered freedom of thought in Europe” (“The Threat of Russian Nihilism,” published in The Day on October 7, 2008 https://day.kyiv.ua/en/article/day-after-day/threat-russian-nihilism).

The Day turned to Western experts, including German ones, with the following questions: How can you explain why Germany insists on the construction of Nord Stream 2 despite energetic resistance from the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine, as well as the Trump administration? Why do Germans fail to consider the arguments of these countries about the danger coming from building this gas pipeline, which is contrary to the Third Energy Charter of the EU as well?


John HERBST, Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; former US Ambassador to Ukraine; Washington, D.C.:

“Nord Stream 2 is a geopolitical project, not an economic one, that would increase Gazprom’s ability to use gas for political leverage. There is serious opposition to it in the EU. The principal supporters are German business, the Social Democrats in Germany and Putinverstehers elsewhere in Europe. My sense is that American sanctions on Russia will make it harder to proceed with Nord Stream 2. My sense is that Nord Stream 2 will not be built.”

Roland FREUDENSTEIN, Deputy Director and Head of Research at Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, Brussels:

“First of all, German big business indeed wants Nord Stream 2. Why they’re not afraid of US sanctions? No idea, maybe the companies directly concerned (Uniper etc.) have no business in the US.

“Why does Merkel promote it? First of all, the SPD is still adamant. Even though – or maybe just because – the new SPD Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is tougher on Russia regarding infowar, Donbas etc., he has to prove to the SPD base that he can still be Russia-friendly. That is an important factor in a party which builds part of its identity on Ostpolitik.

“So, Merkel has to take into account two important lobbies: big business and her coalition partner. But the most ominous element is that Merkel may indeed be trying what Steinmeier and Gabriel have tried in vain: to get Putin’s cooperation on Syria (some kind of peace process), the Iran Deal, and Donbas through conciliatory measures. One of those might be to offer Nord Stream 2 as a special gift to Putin while giving guarantees – or ‘ensuring’ Russian guarantees – to Ukraine. That’s what she offered allegedly in Sochi at her meeting with Putin last week. This also has to do with the new transatlantic conflict over Iran sanctions and trade in general. Some West Europeans obviously think it’s a good idea to get closer to Russia now. If Merkel shares even part of that philosophy, then Europe is in real trouble.”

Edward LUCAS, senior vice president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, author of the book The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West:

“Germany is motivated mainly by commercial reasons. They do not see the political danger of giving Russia a new foothold in their energy business. If Nord Stream 2 is built, it will make Germany into the gas hub of north-eastern Europe, with all sorts of opportunities for Russian influence-peddling, intelligence collection, and other mischief.

“Unfortunately Ukraine does not have a good reputation in Germany as a gas transit country. It is a great pity that energy reform did not happen sooner, with the modernization and transparency which both Ukraine and its delivery partners would benefit from. Of course one reason for that is Russian influence. But Ukrainians are not blameless.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day