Monday, August 17, 2020

Nord Stream 2: how the impeding sanctions might affect the contractors and population of Sassnitz

 Reporters of the newspaper "WELT" have transported to the port of Sassnitz in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania for a local inspection:

"There is black coffee and apricot strudel in the Peters bakery, Am Fährhafen 4. From the terrace with the neatly laid bricks you have the best view of the yellow crane with the orange tip that towers over everything here.

It rises stoically in the ferry port of the state-recognized seaside resort of Sassnitz, held by a whole bundle of thick ropes. Only the steel hook sways gently in the wind.

The crane belongs to the “Akademik Cherskiy”, the most controversial pipe-laying ship in the world. It is 150 meters long and 38.5 meters wide. Eight diesel generators with almost 43,000 hp propel the ship, which can without question be called the key to completing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

It has been in the port since May of this year and is supposed to transport and lay the last 160 kilometers of pipes in order to complete the gas route from Russia directly to the German Baltic coast. Nothing has happened since then, why is unclear. Apparently, the ship must first be converted accordingly for further construction. But the trouble came to Sassnitz with the ship - and when the trouble evaporated, the fear remained.

Since August 5th, the small town has been at the center of a geopolitical power game. The three US Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson wrote a three-page letter to the operators of the ferry port in Sassnitz and threatened the economic destruction of the location if the completion of the gas pipeline were to continue from here.

The port is the storage place for the pipes and the starting point for the laying vessels. Since then, the whole world has been looking at the small town in the northeast of the holiday island of Rügen.

Norman, who collects 8.70 euros for the apricot strudel and the coffee, doesn't exactly look scared: “This is a global market economy. Russian gas is cheaper than American gas. If the upper capitalist doesn't understand that… ”he says and looks meaningfully down the little hill on which the bakery is located. "That's another typical Trump thing."

The ferry port is currently on the federal government's agenda. “Nothing works down there, because of the Russians,” an older man says as he passes by. Down there, at the harbor basin, is the headquarters of Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH.

Pipeline pipes are piled up like fat Cuban cigars all over the site. The waves of the Baltic Sea hit the quay wall, the wind pushes smelly brown algae onto land. A single seagull screeches towards the spray. When it falls silent, there is an eerie silence on the eastern edge of Rügen.

The port earns its money by handling passengers and goods on its ferries. It was built in the 1980s as one of the last major transport projects in the GDR and was intended to create an efficient connection for freight traffic to the Soviet Union.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, another terminal was built; today the operators call the facility “Mukran Port” - one of “the most important industrial and economic centers in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania”. There are ferries to Denmark, Sweden and Russia, and even cruise ships can moor on the 430 hectare site.
The port is very proud of that, and the threatening letter from the US Senate does not fit into the concept. The managing directors don't want to talk about that. On the phone, a port spokesman explains that the conflict is "a matter for the federal government and the Federal Foreign Office" - a size too big for the tranquil town.
The small group of three standing in the harbor and looking out to sea sees it differently. They met there because they wanted to talk about the threats. Christine Zillmer, Ingo Trusheim and Christian Hußmann cannot be overlooked.

Because in times of a global pandemic, the check-in terminal is almost extinct. Bus number 18, which snorts through a roundabout, is deserted. The three of them are at home in Sassnitz - in the middle of Chancellor Angela Merkel's constituency.

That is important for this story, because they are all members of the CDU local association Sassnitz, thoroughbred local politicians, Merkel's loyalists directly to the party base. Trusheim is their boss, Zillmer is also the chairwoman of the Rügen business association.
Fährhafen GmbH, which also operates the terminal, is 100 percent state-owned - 90 percent belongs to the city of Sassnitz, ten percent to the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. This is what makes the US letter to the port so explosive. Because writing is not only an attack on a German company, but also on town and country.

"The board members, executives and shareholders of Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH are prohibited from entering the United States and any property or ownership interest that they have in our area of ​​responsibility is frozen" is just one of the sentences from the document.
"The letter is actually a joke, but it can get serious very quickly," says Trusheim and doesn't look funny at all. The economic power of the port is enormous and can be further expanded. Economically, the threat could become a danger - especially if the Russians simply keep building.

“I think our government will stand firm, then the local port could lose out,” he says. And then? Then the fear of jobs and economic power would suddenly be real.

"The people who work here are afraid," says party colleague Zillmer. “Some fear that they will be bugged at home. This is an irresponsible threatening gesture towards the people in Sassnitz, ”she complains.

But what if the US senators are right after all and Germany will become fatally dependent on Russia with the completion of the pipeline? "If, like the Americans, you only think for yourself, then I can understand your position," says Trusheim.
But after all, the USA itself would also source raw materials from other countries. “They don't want anything good for us, only for themselves. And that on the backs of our people here,” Zillmer resolutely intervenes.

Her incomprehension can be seen most clearly; she clenches her fists again and again while speaking or spreads her fingers as if she were simply crumpling up the letter from Washington. It is the first time in Sassnitz that the tension in people is really visible.
Not only is a local politician sitting here, primarily a horrified citizen. “We little ones are sitting here, but who's going to answer the letter now?” She asks. Decision-makers would repeatedly emphasize Germany's sovereignty - "but what does that mean for us?"

That means that federal and state politics are beside themselves. In a protest note on Thursday, the EU forbade further US interference. Opposite WELT, Christian level, Minister for Energy in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, joins the canon of the indignant.
“The letter from the US Senators is lacking in all decency. It is a widespread attempt to use threats that cannot be found in the current US sanctions laws to frighten people and companies in such a way that Nord Stream 2 will come to nothing, "he says - but is also sure:" Den normal employees are not threatened with trouble. "

But by whom - and above all how - should this be ensured, the people in the port ask themselves. Foreign policy responsibility, says level, lies with the federal government. However, the state is ready to issue all legally permissible permits very quickly in order to enable construction, provided that new or changed permits prove necessary for completion. "For us it is important that gas flows in the end - and it will."

Christine Zillmer is convinced that it will be “early 2022”. “The letter is his flash in the pan. When the election campaign in the USA is over and the country possibly has a new president, the pipeline will be ready. ”Ultimately, the hiring would be a fatal political sign - also and especially for Angela Merkel.
That's why the Chancellor, her constituency member, finds the CDU troops in the port. “She has been dealing with the subject very intensively since her vacation. We are excited to see what happens, ”reports Ingo Trusheim from a conversation with Merkel's constituency office. They want at least one quick signal - as soon as possible. "We'll take care of it," she should say, "says Zillmer.

Until that happens, local politicians simply take action themselves. "Dear Mr. Trump, we would like to invite you and your senators to come to Sassnitz to visit our beautiful, white city by the sea. We would like you to get an impression of the conditions and our island on Rügen and in the ferry port of Sassnitz, ”they write in a letter to the US President, which WELT is at hand.

And they have a clear message: At the entrance to the port, they write, there is a large rock - as a “symbol of the strength and power of the region”. Now he also symbolizes German and European unity. "That is why we want the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been approved in all European countries involved in the rule of law, to be expressly retained." 
Until then, the city representatives will discuss the topic in the economic committee - next Thursday at 6 p.m. The problematic pick-up day for the “yellow bags” is still on the agenda there, soon to be a trade war with Washington.

In Renee Jedamzik's “Hafen-Eck” canteen, those on whose back the global test of strength is being held sit. The term “canteen” is vastly exaggerated for the 2.50 meter high, white container.
The corrugated iron shack, open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., also has a terrace, small and wood-paneled. Twelve metal chairs and four tables are in front of it. Here the threatening letter hovers over the employees like a barely tangible omen.

Already in the morning the heavy smell of meatball fat is in the air. “I had a pub for a long time, it's quieter here,” says Jedamzik. “And if things can't go on here, I'll just go to Binz.” The people in the port worked hard, but still always said “Thank you”. Nothing more, he is not really talkative either. "I have my plan in mind: breakfast, lunch, there is not much time to talk."
He has also heard of writing from Washington, but Sassnitz is characterized by her stoic calm. “You could have written the letter two years ago. That fits in with the election campaign, but his people like that, "says Jedamzik ​​of the US president. “Nobody can be blackmailed here,” says a security guard, takes sausage and bread rolls and disappears back into the winding grounds.

A wide truck route leads from the “Hafen-Eck” onto the federal highway 96, six kilometers into the actual center of Sassnitz. If you get off there, you end up in a different world, where you only read about the geopolitical spectacle in the newspaper. And whoever knows about it is not interested in it. They admit that, but they still prefer not to be photographed. Instead, they say sentences like: "Who knows what the Americans see?"
The street of youth leads down to the city harbor, where excursion steamers and fishing trawlers are packed together and carry tourists a few nautical miles out to sea every day. Even in the evening the wind pushes the pungent smell of fish along the harbor promenade, seagulls beg for a few leftovers. The yellow crane of the “Akademik Cherskiy” is still clearly visible from the pier, shimmering in the light of the setting sun.
The Rügenfisch factory outlet, once the largest canned fish manufacturer in the GDR, is located directly on the cobblestone runway. It is shortly before the end of the day, an elderly lady with tousled, red hair is standing behind the counter: “I read about it too,” she says as she looks at the letter from Washington. “But I'm not interested in politics.” Her younger colleague comes out of the storeroom and looks amused: “They'd better elect a new president.”

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