Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline: controversial and unstoppable
As US President Joe Biden prepares for a historic meeting with Russian Vladimir Putin, here is an overview of the project described by the United States as a geopolitical security risk but also a “fait accompli”:
Stretching from Russia’s Baltic coast to northeastern Germany, the 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) long submarine Nord Stream 2 follows the same route as the completed Nord Stream 1 over ten years ago.
Like its twin, Nord Stream 2 will be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year to Europe, increasing the continent’s access to relatively cheap natural gas at a time of declining national production.
Russian giant Gazprom has a majority stake in the 10 billion euros ($ 12 billion) project. The Germans Uniper and Wintershall, the French Engie, the Anglo-Dutch Shell and the Austrian OMV are also involved.
Nord Stream 2 bypasses Ukraine’s pipeline infrastructure, robbing the country of about a billion euros per year in transit fees and, Kiev fears, removing key control over a possible Russian aggression.
Ukraine, at odds with Russia since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, also believes that Nord Stream 2 will be used by Russia to exert political pressure.
In past disputes with Russia, Ukraine has seen its gas supply cut off several times.
The United States shares these concerns. As well as several European countries, in particular Poland and the countries of Eastern Europe, fear to become too dependent on Moscow for energy security.
Analysts disagree on the economic and environmental benefits of Nord Stream.
A 2018 report by German think-tank DIW said the project was unnecessary and based on forecasts that “dramatically overstate demand for natural gas in Germany and Europe.”
Russia and Germany insist that Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project.
Europe’s largest economy imports around 40% of its gas from Russia and believes the pipeline has a role to play in Germany’s transition from coal to nuclear power.
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, close to Putin, chairs the shareholders committee of Nord Stream.
A major test took place earlier this year when Chancellor Angela Merkel resisted fierce pressure from Washington and Brussels to abandon the pipeline after Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed.
“It feels like Berlin’s enthusiasm for the pipeline has dropped sharply, but no one in power is ready to stop it,” wrote Steven Pifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine and Brookings Institution analyst, in a recent report.
The German Green Party, which is expected to be part of the next coalition government, is against Nord Stream.
Like his predecessors Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Biden opposes Nord Stream 2, calling it a bad deal for Europe and a security risk.
But critics like to point out that the United States is also looking to increase sales of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe, which costs more than Russian gas.
US sanctions against Russian ships laying the pipeline in recent years have succeeded in delaying Nord Stream 2, angering Germany.
But Biden, eager to reconnect transatlantic ties after Trump, unexpectedly lifted sanctions on the Russian-controlled company behind the project in May.
Analysts saw the move as an olive branch to Berlin, whose backing counts Washington to face other challenges, including a rising China.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken subsequently called the completion of Nord Stream 2 a âdone dealâ.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has declared the lifting of sanctions a victory for Putin.
âNord Stream 2 is not an economic project. It poses a serious threat,â Zelensky said.
Reaffirming his support for Ukraine, Biden invited Zelensky to the White House in July.
Observers say Washington could now focus on working with Germany to limit Nord Stream’s fallout on Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has already offered to negotiate the extension of Gazprom’s gas transit contract with Ukraine.
Under the current deal, Gazprom has to pay transit fees until 2024, even if it stops using Ukrainian pipelines.