6 reasons Nord Stream 2 will be Germany’s strategic mistake for decades to come
The Russian government’s lobbying strategy is crystal clear – it wants to keep Western money flowing towards the Kremlin elite and increase its leverage against key European decision makers. Recent history only confirms that the Kremlin uses energy as a tool of blackmail. There is no reason why Moscow should change this strategy. Most Central and Eastern European countries understand this threat very well, but it seems that Russia’s lobbying efforts have been enormously successful in persuading the majority of Berlin’s political establishment to become allies in this energy game.
Meeting with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, Source: President of Russia
Nord Stream 2 is now supported by both Germany‘s major ruling political parties in the current CDU/SPD coalition as well as three parties of the opposition: the far right AfD, the liberal FDP, and the extreme left, die Linke. The German side argues that the broad public support for the project justifies it. But is German public opinion really informed in this case? While the German political elite seems to be convinced that this is the right decision, there are a least six major reasons why building Nord Stream 2 is a strategic mistake for Berlin and its European allies.
- Building up this extra pipeline will increase German political dependency on Russian energy, giving Moscow greater leverage for strategic blackmail.
We have seen the Kremlin use energy to blackmail European democracies numerous times in the past. While Germany‘s government is rightly the key driver behind European sanctions retaliating against Russia‘s aggression against Ukraine, the Merkel administration still has a blind spot. If Berlin agrees that an aggressor needs to be punished and deterred from further aggression (which has cost more than 10,000 Ukrainian lives so far) and if Germany is seen as the ‘moral leader’ keeping the push for sanctions active, how can it also effectively provide an aggressor with a major tool for blackmailing the country in the future? The only plausible explanation of this position is that Russian lobbying efforts have been overwhelmingly successful in working the floor of decision-making circles. It takes a combination of local pragmatic interests of some individuals as well as the incredibly naïve and dangerous ideological belief of a political class that if you do business with an aggressor, he will possibly become less aggressive. History has shown that such a strategy is ineffective. An aggressor needs to be stopped with resolute power and deterrence, not political bribes. Germany is Gazprom’s largest European market and the construction of the pipeline will consolidate the company’s position against other competitors and ultimately against Berlin itself. Pretending that the Nord Stream 2 project is not political is simply a lie.
- Nord Stream 2 will bypass Germany’s Central and Eastern European allies and weaken the Alliance.
Nord Stream 2 enables Gazprom to partition markets and potentially charge higher prices in the CEE region. German analyst Georg Zachmann expressed this idea eloquently: “Most alarmingly, Gazprom would gain another tool to discriminate between countries. Gazprom could then credibly threaten to cut off gas supplies in Eastern Europe without threatening its markets in Western Europe. In this way Gazprom could achieve higher prices in Central and Eastern Europe, without having to use illegal “destination clauses” (which allow buyers of Gazprom’s gas to only sell it to domestic consumers)”.
In this already difficult context for regional stability, Nord Stream 2 increases security risks in Baltic states too as it can be used by the Kremlin as an argument for keeping armed forces near the construction sites “to protect them from sabotage”. It can also be safely assumed that the Russian Federation would not refrain from using provocation and fake sabotage incidents as it has done in the past, both in Ukraine and in Turkmenistan, should it require a pretext for a stronger military presence.
Specialists argue that it could give a tactical advantage to the Russian armed forces. More importantly, it would enable the Russian forces to block NATO forces’ movements by sea in case of armed conflict with Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania. Combined with armed forces based in Kaliningrad, Nord Stream 2 circumvents Baltic States, legitimizing the presence of Russian armed forces in the region. Nord Stream 2 is not only endangering the security of Ukraine but it also has a direct impact on the security of Baltic States. Another concerns is the expected rise of hostile intelligence activities related to the construction of Nord Stream 2, as well as the difficulty it creates for future NATO maneuvers in the region.
- The Federal Republic of Germany will be de facto co-financing Russia’s war machine and Nord Stream 2 will further weaken the Alliance.
Gazprom however is not just any company. It has specifically been involved in malign practices in many different countries. In Germany, the Nord Stream 1 project was clouded by a large corruption case related to the Nordic Yards (previously Wadan Yards) involving Russian government officials and members of the Russian mafia, as reported by expert Ilya Zaslavskiy.
The truth is that Nord Stream 2 is not a regular business project with the Russian Federation, or even with Gazprom: it is a business deal with Vladimir Putin and his cronies. Doing business with the Russian President is in no way a normal business deal. If actors involved in similar jaw-dropping deals with mafia-like Russian elite economy can seemingly rely on domestic impunity, this feeling is likely to soon stop at the country’s borders.
- Nord Stream 2 will aggravate strategic corruption in Europe – as the Schroeder case shows.
Security analysts have long sounded the alarm about the level of Russian intelligence penetration into Germany. None of the actors involved on the German side of the Gazprom deals in Germany, such as ex-Stasi officer Matthias Warnig or former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, have been the subject of official scrutiny or real isolation in the last decade. Neither have the local politicians who suddenly started to lobby for the project in the Land of Mecklenburg Western Pomerania a few years ago. It can be safely assumed that Nord Stream 2 will make entire parts of the Baltic coastal region in Germany economically dependent on the energy deal. It is no coincidence that Gazprom’s fiercest defenders are decision makers from this region. Incidentally, these local politicians and entrepreneurs are also the loudest critics of sanctions against the Russian Federation, and are also equally harsh critics of NATO, often displaying blatant anti-Americanism while cultivating a taste for lavish tourism in the Russian Federation.
- Nord Stream 2 contradicts EU Energy Union principles and is clearly redundant.
The EU energy agenda stresses the importance of diversification and the necessity of unbundling. Under the massive influence of the Federal Republic of Germany, the EU has also been promoting renewables. Experts have argued that the already existing gas infrastructure was more than adequate to guarantee transport of the necessary volume to the European market. From a supply perspective, Nord Stream 2 officials claim that as supply in the Netherlands and Norway dwindles, Europe needs additional gas volume. They conveniently forget that Gazprom simply intends to replace one part of the infrastructure (the pipelines going through Ukraine) with another (the expansion of NS2).
This begs the question of how genuine Germany’s European commitments are. Given the position of the European Union and of the German government on global warming, how does Germany justify allowing companies to invest in the construction of a strategic gas pipeline infrastructure while claiming to promote renewables and energy efficiency?
- Nord Stream 2 causes substantial environmental damage.
Approximately 70% of all Russian gas imports to Europe will go through just two underwater pipelines that are vulnerable to terrorism, which are much less safe than existing landline routes.
Major European environmental groups have raised the issue of Nord Stream 2 being a genuine threat to both fauna and flora. The Kulgarsky reserve in North West Russia is directly threatened by the construction of Nord Stream. Finnish, Estonian and Swedish organizations have voiced similar concerns regarding the Baltic Sea. Here again, German decision makers seem to be disregarding the warnings from environmental organizations and NGOs such as NABU whose latest analysis of the project concluded that it constitutes a real danger to the coastal environment. NABU subsequently decided to launch a legal procedure against the construction of Nord Stream 2. NABU lost the case. The court decided to privilege energy security over the environmental aspect. Here again, the concern expressed by several NGOs confirming NABUs’ assessment seems to be ignored by the current German government.
Several other critics, mostly Baltic and Ukrainian, have convincingly argued that, at minimum, the German government must exercise strict control over undersea pipelines lying within their territorial limits on the Baltic Sea. This dimension involves a wide range of environmental contingencies and security-related provisions. They claim that if Berlin had wanted to stop or delay the project, it could have easily done so.
- Eerik-Niiles Kross, MP, Riigikogu, Estonia
- Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, Member, European Parliament, Poland
- Marko Mihkelson, Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee of Estonia’s Parliament, Estonia
- Tunne Kelam, Member, European Parliament, Estonia
- Karl Altau, Managing Director, Joint Baltic American National Committee, Estonia
- Antoine Arjakovsky, Founder, Director, Institute of Ecumenical Studies, Ukrainian Catholic University, France
- Plamen Asenov, Journalist, Freelancer, Bulgaria
- Kamil Basaj, Project Manager, Information Operations – Cybersecurity Foundation, Poland
- Marieluise Beck, Co-founder, Zentrum Liberale Moderne, Germany
- Radovan Bláha, Member, Politics and Conscience Movement, Czech Republic
- Simas Čelutka, Head of European Security Programme, Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis, Lithuania
- Sławomir Dębski, Director, Polish Institute of International Affairs, Poland
- Ralf Fücks, Executive Director, Zentrum Liberale Moderne, Germany
- Otakar van Gemund, Activist, Kaputin Group, Czech Republic
- Gustav C. Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow on the Wider Europe Programme, European Council on Foreign Relations Berlin, Germany
- István Gyarmati , President, International Centre for Democratic Transition, Hungary
- Wojciech Jakóbik, Energy analyst and Editor in Chief, BiznesAlert.pl, Poland
- Mark Johnston, Blogger, markjohnston.org, Belgium
- Péter Krekó, Director, Political Capital Institute, Hungary
- Andis Kudors, Executive Director, Centre for East European Policy Studies, Latvia
- Marius Laurinavičius, Senior Expert, Vilnius Institute for Policy Analysis , Lithuania
- Martin Malek, Political Scientist, National Defense Academy, Austria
- Nerijus Maliukevicius, Researcher, Vilnius University, Lithuania
- Jakub Můčka, Chairman, Eastern European Club of Charles University, Czech Republic
- Jaroslav Naď, Director, Slovak Security Policy Institute, Slovakia
- Andrej Ferdinand Novak, Senior Consultant, European Cosmopolitan Consulting, Germany
- Ana Otilia Nutu, Political Analyst, Expert Forum, Romania
- Patrik Oksanen, Political editor, Hudiksvalls Tidning newspaper, Sweden
- Samuel de Paiva Pires, Visiting Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Beira Interior, Portugal
- Žygimantas Pavilionis, Member, Lietuvos Respublikos Seimo, Lithuania
- Bjarne Kim Pedersen, Writer, Blogdigter, Denmark
- Tomasz Peszynski, Coordinator, Pulse of Europe, Czech Republic
- Marcin Rey, Blogger, Rosyjska V Kolumna w Polsce, Poland
- Alan Riley, Senior Associate Fellow, The Institute for Statecraft, UK
- Giedrius Sakalauskas, Director, Res Publica, Lithuania
- Anton Shekhovtsov, Visiting Fellow, Institute for Human Sciences, Austria
- Katarina Skrypnik, Chairwoman, Prague Majdan, Czech Republic
- Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow, Jamestown Foundation, Germany
- Susanne Spahn, Political Scientist, Independent, Germany
- Evgeni B. Starikov, Theoretical Biophysical Chemistry, Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, Germany
- Alice Stollmeyer, Executive Director, Defending Democracy, Belgium
- David Svoboda, Historian, Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, Czech Republic
- Dovilė Šukytė, Acting Director, Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC), Lithuania
- Nicolas Tenzer, Senior Civil Servant, Editor-in-Chief, Le Banquet , France
- Radu Tudor, Political and Military Analyst, Antena 3, Romania
- Marcel H Van Herpen, Director, The Cicero Foundation, Netherlands
- Prince Oleg Volkonsky, Former Journalist, Voice of America, UK
- Rolf Weber, Security Analyst, Independent, Germany
- Ernest Wyciszkiewicz , Director, Centre for Polish-Russian Dialogue and Understanding, Poland
- Ilya Zaslavskiy, Fellow, Chatham House, UK