Friday, December 10, 2021

Nord Stream 2: Biden administration piles pressure on new german government

 The US government is losing patience with german officials who - to date - do not want to commit to a dropping of the contentious pipeline in case of a russian aggression against Ukraine. From the US viewpoint it remains to be if newly appointed foreign secretary Annalena Baerbock gets her way and if new german chancellor Olaf Scholz can preserve his independence towards the general position of his social-democratic party who supports this project, writes WELT:

Seldom has a Chancellor found himself caught between two superpowers so quickly. Not only congratulations for Olaf Scholz (SPD) came from Washington and Moscow, but also tangible pressure. The US wants to deter Russia from invading Ukraine - and, parallel to Scholz's inauguration, made it clear that they consider the federal government to be part of the problem.

"We have had intensive discussions with both the outgoing and the new German government about the issue of Nord Stream 2 in connection with a possible invasion," said US President Joe Biden's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan. "If Vladimir Putin wants gas to flow through this pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine."

The message: If Putin attacks Ukraine, Berlin must stop the German-Russian pipeline. The US is fed up with Germany's geostrategic ghost ride. Putin had tightened Russia's course against Europe over two decades - but the German chancellors stuck to the billion-dollar pipeline project.

Gerhard Schröder (SPD) decided on the first Nord Stream pipeline in 2005 as one of his last official acts with Putin. Schröder then moved to his warehouse - and, as Nord Stream supervisory board chairman, ensured that the gas lines were built under Angela Merkel (CDU).

Putin razed democracy in Russia, invaded Georgia, invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and critics of the regime were murdered. Resistance to the pipeline grew in the US and the EU. But Nord Stream 1 and 2 were built. After Schröder, Merkel also became the patron saint of the tubes on the Baltic Sea floor.

Now the US wants to ensure that Germany uses the pipeline as a lever to stop Putin. The pipeline is not yet operational, said safety advisor Sullivan. "Therefore it is not a means of pressure for Putin, but rather for the West". Members of the US MPs even said that Germany had promised the US to stop the pipeline in the event of an invasion.

As WELT learned from US government circles, this is not the case. “There was no substantial change in the German position at Nord Stream 2,” says a person familiar with the German-American negotiations. “It is said that all options are on the table. But there is no clear agreement that the pipeline will be closed if Russia invades Ukraine. "

The USA and Ukraine have been putting pressure on Berlin for months. For Merkel, a visit to Washington in July turned into a trip to Canossa. She got permission from President Biden to finish building Nord Stream 2. In return, it had to undertake to compensate Ukraine with security guarantees and investments in eco-energies.

After the agreement in principle at the highest level, a German-Ukrainian agreement should be negotiated. But nothing happened for months, the federal government played for time. The US is now losing patience. They expect a clear promise: If Putin attacks Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 is dead. "The question is how the new German government positions itself," says the person familiar with the negotiations.

It depends on how strongly Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) is of her critical stance towards Nord Stream 2 - and whether she can enforce this in the federal government. “In the end, the decision should lie with Olaf Scholz. It depends on how he defines his Russia course, also against the background of the currents in his party. "

Even while the ministers were still receiving their certificates of appointment, the first conflicts broke out at this point. SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich let it be known that foreign policy was "primarily controlled in the Chancellery". What pissed off the green foreign politician Omid Nouripour. "To lower the Foreign Office in this way is the traditional cook-waiter logic," tweeted the tweeted, alluding to the conflict between ex-Chancellor Schröder (SPD) and the former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer (Greens) in the red-green coalition.

Scholz knows these times. He was the SPD general secretary in the red-green years in which Schröder threaded the Nord Stream pipeline as a top priority with Putin. In the election campaign, Scholz did not rule out a stop at Nord Stream 2 - and he stayed with this line on Wednesday after he was sworn in. “We have a very clear stance. We want everyone to respect the boundaries, "said Scholz in an interview with the TV broadcaster WELT when asked about the Ukraine crisis and Nord Stream 2." Everyone understands that there will be consequences if that weren't the case. " But here too: no explicit threat of a pipeline stop. For the time being, Scholz is sticking to the federal government's line of all options.

That is not enough for the USA, they want a clear nexus. Ukraine wants even more, it is calling for the project to be stopped regardless of Russia's actions. "We welcome the idea of ​​stopping the Nord Stream 2 project immediately if Russia dares a military invasion of Ukraine," the Ukrainian ambassador Andrij Melnyk told WELT on Wednesday. The pipeline "was a major strategic mistake from the start that encouraged the Kremlin to continue its aggressive policies even more ruthlessly."

The new federal government must therefore intervene politically now, not just in the event of Russian aggression. Nord Stream 2 must be "scrapped and shelved," said Melnyk. Stopping the pipeline is the litmus test of whether the federal government is actually ready to “act against Putin and other dictators” from a position of strength. On Thursday, US President Biden and his Ukrainian colleague Volodymyr Selenskyj want to discuss how to continue to prevent Russia from invading.

Meanwhile, Putin also addressed Merkel in his congratulatory telegram for Scholz on Wednesday. “You have rightly earned a high level of authority in Europe and around the world,” Putin wrote. "We were in constant contact and tried to find ways out of even the most difficult situations."

Between the lines you can read: Even Scholz, to whom he offered a "constructive dialogue" less heartily in the letter, should follow this tradition - and better not go into confrontation. For Putin, this also includes a cooperative attitude in the construction of Nord Stream 2.

Putin's close confidante Schröder also made a statement on the day the new Chancellor was inaugurated. He did not give Scholz any advice, said Schröder in an interview with the TV broadcaster WELT. But he is sure that Russia does not want a war. What makes him sure? "Vladimir Putin makes me sure." Nord Stream 2 is "an approved economic project". That is why the new federal government must ensure “that gas flows through this pipeline”. It's that simple with the former Chancellor. It should be much more difficult for his successor.

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