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Russian Pipeline Under Threat Amid Ukraine Tensions

Russian Pipeline Under Threat Amid Ukraine Tensions
Source: NBC

The pipeline has been constructed and is now being filled with natural gas. However, before any gas flows to Germany, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 faces a bumpy route, with its new leaders adopting a more dubious tone toward the project and tensions rising over Russia’s force deployment near the Ukrainian border.

The pipeline, which Ukraine, Poland, and the United States oppose, is awaiting final clearance from Germany and the European Union in order to bypass other nations and begin delivering natural gas straight to Europe. The continent is experiencing a gas crisis, which has caused prices to skyrocket, driving inflation and prompting concerns about what would happen if supplies run out.

The US has emphasized Nord Stream 2 as a means of countering any fresh Russian military action against Ukraine, and the project has already run into legal and logistical roadblocks. As European and American officials discuss how to cope with Russia’s pressure on Ukraine, political opposition — notably from EU countries such as Poland — adds to one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s primary priorities.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the pipeline, as did the country’s incoming leader, Olaf Scholz, who was Merkel’s finance minister at the time. However, since the Greens joined the ruling coalition, his new administration has adopted a notably more distant tone. The Green Party campaigned on the premise that the fossil fuel pipeline achieves little to combat global warming and jeopardizes EU strategic interests.

The idea, according to new German Deputy Chancellor Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, does not comply with EU anti-monopoly legislation.

In an interview published Sunday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Habeck remarked, “Nord Stream 2 was a geopolitical miscalculation.” “Whether it will be allowed to start functioning is an open issue,” he said, adding that more “violence” means “nothing is off the table.”

Scholz has been careful in his remarks as chancellor, and it’s unclear whether he’ll go as far as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has indicated that if Russia “renewed its actions” toward Ukraine, gas will flow “extremely improbable.”

When asked if an invasion would stop Nord Stream 2, Deputy German Government Spokesman Wolfgang Buechner said the pipeline is “an undertaking of a private business that is largely completed” and that regulatory approval “had no political dimension,” but added that military aggression would have “high costs and sanction.”

Scholz “never makes things totally obvious,” according to Stefan Meister, a German Council on Foreign Relations expert on Russian energy policy. “So I’m not sure under what circumstances he’d agree to shut down the pipeline.”

Nonetheless, there was “a new tone, a new rhetoric from the new German administration,” according to Meister.

The pipeline would quadruple the amount of gas piped directly to Germany by Russian-controlled gas giant Gazprom, complementing a similar pipeline under the Baltic Sea and bypassing current linkages through Poland and Ukraine. Gazprom claims that it will enable for more consistent long-term supplies while also saving billions in transit costs paid to Poland and Ukraine. The pipeline, according to Gazprom, is part of the company’s responsibility as a long-term provider of inexpensive energy to Europe, which is highly reliant on natural gas imports.

Critics argue that the pipeline strengthens Russia’s grip on Europe, puts member nations against one another, and deprives Ukraine of crucial financial help. Europe also headed into winter with depleted gas inventories, sending prices jumping to eight times what they were at the start of the year, with Putin exploiting the crisis to hammer home his case for the project’s ultimate sanction.

Gazprom did not sell gas beyond its long-term commitments, fueling suspicions about Russian intentions. According to analysts, current pipelines have ample capacity for Gazprom to send more, but the company chose to replenish domestic reserves first.

The pipeline approval procedure has been put on hold for the time being. Because German authorities may only rule on entities incorporated under German law, Nord Stream 2 is incorporating a German subsidiary to conform; a judgment isn’t expected until the second half of this year. The proposal must next be reviewed by the European Commission before being returned to German officials for ultimate approval. Analysts believe the ruling is purely legal and bureaucratic, with no political implications.

Critics of Nord Stream 2 claim it fails to fulfill an EU need to adequately separate the gas provider from the pipeline operator in order to avoid a monopoly that would harm competition and raise consumer costs. A Gazprom subsidiary owns Nord Stream 2.

When asked about the problem of separation, Nord Stream stated it “makes all necessary steps to guarantee compliance with existing norms and regulations” and that it has received permissions from the four EU nations through which it travels.

“We do not comment on political statements,” the corporation replied in response to Habeck’s criticism.

Even if the pipeline passes regulatory assessment, Poland’s objections may prevent it from being built. This is because EU members can fight regulators in the European Court of Justice if they disagree with their decisions, according to Alan Riley, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a lawyer who specializes in European antitrust and energy problems. The anti-monopoly provisions might result in years of litigation and, in the worst-case scenario, a preliminary injunction blocking pipeline operations until the matter is resolved.

Riley speculated, “This might go on for a long time.” “By no means is final approval a slam-dunk.”

The “artificial” barriers to opening Nord Stream 2 fast, according to Konstantin Kosachev, a deputy speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper chamber. While others believe that Europe has become increasingly reliant on Russian gas, he claims that Russia has fulfilled all of its responsibilities.

“Opponents of Russian gas projects in Europe worry not that Russian supplies will fail, but rather that all difficulties will be handled, leaving no room to accuse Moscow of harboring nefarious intents or using energy as a weapon,” Kosachev said.

While acknowledging that German Foreign Minister Baerbock’s anti-Nord Stream 2 statements mirror her and her party’s views, Kosachev stressed that she now speaks for the entire country.

“Explaining the inability to offer cheap petrol only on the basis of Russian threats would not be the greatest start for the government coalition in Berlin,” he added. “As a result, I don’t believe the ‘green’ minister’s position would have a significant influence on the pipeline’s fate, even if it’s clear she wouldn’t support it or hurry it up.”

Even if it never gets off the ground, Nord Stream 2 has served the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests by sowing conflict among EU countries as well as between Germany, the EU, and the United States, according to Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“The pipeline has already repaid the Kremlin without being operational,” he claimed. “In Russia, politics and security always take precedence over the economy.”