Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Nord Stream 2: possible geostrategic impacts

In an essay french researcher Loic Simonet explains the possible consequences of the now  - at least constructionally - completet pipeline Nord Stream 2. Via Le Monde:

On September 6, the last tube of Nord Stream 2 was submerged in the waters of the Baltic Sea. This pipeline crosses the sea areas of Finland, Sweden and Denmark for 1,200 km, between the Russian coast and Germany. Its two pipes will, from the fall, deliver an additional 55 billion cubic meters of Russian gas per year (or half of German consumption) to Western Europe.

Rarely has a “commercial project”, as its promoters continue to call it, been so politicized. Having become the stake of a pitched battle between Germany and a "sling of losers" supported by the United States - anxious to avoid the marginalization of Ukraine as a transit corridor for Russian gas -, Nord Stream 2 was a formidable test for the European Union and its ability to speak with one voice. Described in 2016 by Joe Biden as a "bad deal for Europe," a scapegoat for the US Congress, the "Putin pipeline" has driven a wedge between NATO allies.

The compromise reached by the United States and Germany on July 21 is, of course, part of the new president's promise to reconnect with Europe and rebuild transatlantic relations degraded by his predecessor. In the crosshairs may also be Chinese pressure and the urgency to rally the political forces of the western camp, shaken by the handling of the Afghan crisis. By lifting the restrictions that had hung over the project since 2019 and allowing its completion, Biden also appears to have realized the counterproductive impact of US extraterritorial sanctions and their stimulating effect on European thinking on resilience. However, the Nord Stream 2 affair will leave deep resentments on both sides, as the EU and NATO each reflect on their strategic positioning.

The words of Radek Sikorski, former Polish defense minister, comparing Nord Stream to the German-Soviet pact of 1939, reveal the frustration of the central and eastern European states most exposed to the Russian threat and to possible ruptures. energy supply. The complaints received by the European Commission and the "betrayal" of Poland, which has openly called on the United States to extend its sanctions against Russia to Nord Stream 2, have cast a harsh light on the differences between the Twenty-Seven. with regard to the latter and, ipso facto, Ukraine in the post-2014 context. They restored a dividing line between old and new Europeans.

The United States is engulfed in the breach, engaging in a real interference against the project, not without provoking a sharp repartee of the German authorities, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas: "Questions of energy policy European Union must be discussed in Europe, not in the United States. As for the European Commission, by publicly expressing its lack of attraction for the second line of the Baltic gas pipeline, it has been accused of using the energy argument for geopolitical ends, thus turning against it. - even his criticisms of Russia. A few years after the calamitous stagnation of the Nabucco gas pipeline project, the positions taken by Brussels on Nord Stream 2 have once again accredited the vision of a Europe that is prolix in grandiloquent but ineffective statements.

Across a space that separates a rapidly expanding NATO area and a Russia that has restored its power without taking gloves, against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis and the deployment of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, fears are strong that Nord Stream 2 will serve as a vector for political or economic countermeasures. Former Senator Richard Lugar, influential chairman of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed concern over the consequences of European energy dependence on the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance. This is also the question that Donald Trump raised on May 17, 2018, when he received NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House; and it was one of his allies that the former US president violently attacked, accusing Germany of being "totally in control" and "a prisoner" of Russia.

The negotiations opened in 1980 by Germany and France with the Soviet Union, with a view to increasing supplies to the immense Urengoy gas field, had led to the "affair" of the Euro-Siberian gas pipeline, l one of the most serious crises that transatlantic relations have known since 1945. The parallel between this historic episode and the Nord Stream 2 controversy is instructive.

Same leading role of Germany, eager to integrate the USSR into a system of cooperation; same jealous reaction from the Americans; the same biased debate on European dependence and its politico-strategic consequences; same vision opposed on both sides of the Atlantic, Europe favoring the economic relationship and the diversification of its supplies, without realizing the politicization of the issue in America, considered from the angle of security; the same temptation, on the Russian side, to play with the differences between allies; same poisoned international context (invasion of Afghanistan, martial law in Poland) affecting an essentially commercial project.

A few years later, an obscure journalist named Antony Blinken published a geopolitical book titled Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis (Praeger Publishers Inc, 1987). The author urged America and its allies not to allow "peaceful and non-strategic" trade ties with the Eastern Bloc to become a bone of contention. In November, the Twenty-Seven will discuss the first draft of the "strategic compass" which the EU intends to adopt. A few months later, at the Alliance summit in Spain, NATO is expected to endorse its new strategic concept. Hopefully the message from the new US Secretary of State, whose hand behind the July 21 accord, will not be forgotten, including on this side of the Atlantic.

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