A bilateral agreement between Washington and Berlin on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany has ended a long-running dispute between the two NATO allies over the Kremlin-backed infrastructure project.
But Wednesday’s deal, struck after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House last week, failed to bridge deep divisions in Europe over the pipeline or placate critics who say it is a ‘geopolitical weapon that the Kremlin will use to undermine Ukraine and increase its influence on EU energy supplies.
Starting to operate later this year, Nord Stream 2 will pump 55 billion cubic meters of gas under the Baltic Sea, allowing Gazprom, a Kremlin-controlled gas exporter to reach customers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe without use pipelines crossing Ukraine.
A divisive project
Since Gazprom first applied for permits to begin construction of Nord Stream 2 in 2015 – a year after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea – Ukraine, Poland and other eastern countries. EU fears of Moscow’s influence on Europe’s energy supply have condemned the project.
They say it will be used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to deprive Kiev of $ 2 billion in annual taxes it earns by pumping Russian gas into Europe through its Soviet-era pipelines, and increasing Moscow’s share of European imports. of gas, which the Kremlin could use as a bargaining chip in geopolitical negotiations.
In 2019, the United States passed legislation imposing sanctions on European companies working on the construction of the pipeline, angering Germany and the EU commission, which saw the move as an intervention. unprecedented extraterritoriality in European energy policy, and instilling bilateral ties between Berlin and Washington.
Security promises and money
While the administration of Joe Biden has maintained US opposition to Nord Stream 2, the president has made rebuilding relations with NATO partners such as Germany a priority.
Under the agreement, announced just days after Merkel’s last visit to Washington as chancellor, the United States will withdraw its sanctions against the pipeline in exchange for Berlin’s promises to protect Ukraine and Europe from and potential Russian threats.
In particular, Berlin is committed to imposing measures including limiting Russian energy imports if the Kremlin tries “to use energy as a weapon or to commit other aggressive acts against Ukraine.”
The agreement also means Germany will appoint a special envoy to help force Moscow to extend for 10 years a gas supply agreement through Ukraine that expires in 2024, and make an initial donation of $ 175 million to Kyiv. under a $ 1 billion fund to accelerate Ukraine’s change. from coal to renewable energy projects. Berlin also provides $ 70 million to improve the security of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
‘Superficial is insufficient’
But long-standing critics of the project were not moved by those Berlin promises. The foreign ministers of Ukraine and Poland said in a joint statement that the proposals were “superficial and cannot be considered sufficient to effectively limit the threats created by Nord Stream 2.”
“We call on the United States and Germany to adequately address the security crisis in our region, of which Russia is the sole beneficiary,” they said, adding that Kyiv and Warsaw will continue to work with allies to oppose the pipeline.
Slawomir Debski, head of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, a state-backed think tank, said the agreement “will create a huge security gap on NATO’s eastern flank, and particularly in Ukraine. “.
Wednesday’s deal, Debski added, was the latest example of “inability” to convince Germany that maintaining peace on NATO’s eastern flank was more valuable than its relations with Putin’s Russia. “.
Ukrainian officials have said they do not support the exchange of US sanctions for German theoretical responses to potential Russian actions. “First of all, the problems of national security and safety of Ukraine require specific guarantees and concrete implementation mechanisms,” said Yuriy Vitrenko, executive director of the Ukrainian state-owned gas company Naftogaz. “The US sanctions regime in place today remains the main deterrent against ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine.”
Selling ‘a bad deal’
Despite the agreement with Germany, the U.S. State Department said it still believes Nord Stream 2 is “a bad deal” for Europe. An American official described it as “exploiting the best of a bad hand”.
But despite this, Washington and Berlin must now convince Kyiv, Warsaw and other opponents of Nord Stream 2 that the agreement is the right way for Europe and Ukraine.
Speaking Thursday, Merkel rejected the idea that the agreement was a sign that Ukraine and Poland were a lower priority for Berlin than Russia. She said it was not intended to close the differences between Berlin, Washington and others, but rather to provide a way to manage the ongoing differences. She said Germany would be ready to impose sanctions on Russia if necessary, and said “we are not without tools to do something,” adding that it was important that Germany always dealt with Russia.
Much will depend on next month’s talks ahead of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s meetings with Biden at the White House on August 30, and Berlin’s ability to convince critics it can be trusted to defend its interests. Ukrainians and Europeans.
In a call between Merkel and Putin on Wednesday evening, the two leaders “touched on the possibility” of extending the Ukrainian gas transit agreement beyond 2024, the Kremlin said in a statement.
But Ukraine and its supporters will want more than just words from Berlin and Moscow to abandon their concerns about the impact of Nord Stream 2.
“There is a fundamental problem. It is linked to the fact that we do not understand whether Russia is ready to meet its obligations and is a party to Ukraine’s security, ”Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on television in Thursday.
“America and Germany have agreed to something. But we all understand that the main benefactor of this crisis created by [Nord Stream 2] it’s the Russian Federation. “He added.” And that’s the main problem… on which more work is needed. “