Here is my 21 July 2021 live interview on Germany’s Deutsche Welle about the new US-German deal, a “bad deal” on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
I told DW that the key reason the US has always opposed Nord Stream 2 (NS2) was that it undermines Ukraine’s security – as well as Poland’s and other eastern European and Baltic states’ security.
I told DW that one can argue with the Biden-Blinken assessment (as I have) that they “had to” waive sanctions on the Russian-owned NS2 company, insisting that the pipeline was going to be completed anyway. Indeed, German and Dutch regulators had already allowed work to proceed even when the insurance firm and commissioning firm had left due to sanction threats, and Berlin had promised it would be completed no matter the sanctions.
However, the additional factor, which US spokesmen cite only obliquely, is that Merkel’s government was evidently willing to deny Biden a show of transatlantic unity from which to confront Putin. This shows the extreme lengths Merkel’s government had gone to to insure success in her partnership with Putin to finish NS2..
For Moscow, the essential aim of this partnership has been to avoid the “risk” (as Russian officials have put it) of having to export its gas across Ukraine, a country Putin wants to annex and is now at war with.
For Berlin, the most essential aim of this partnership is to avoid the “risk” (as I have been told repeatedly) of having to import Russian gas via what has long been seen by German political and economic elites as an “insecure” Ukraine (although it is obviously Moscow responsible for this “insecurity”), and as an “unreliable” Ukraine (i.e., German elites had lost confidence in Ukraine to reform itself, or at least the willingness to risk the process).
This German pipeline partnership with Putin,, in other words, is a decision to pursue narrow-national interests. It elevates protection of Germany’s Russian gas supplies for its troubled domestic energy system, and protection of Russian gas supplies for its principal EU trading partners, above the interests of Ukraine’s security and independence as Putin pushes to reincorporate Ukraine into the Russian Federation.
Rather than showing solidarity by forcing Putin to continue shipping his gas to Germany and to other EU sates via Ukraine, the gas will now come directly to Germany. Germany will become the principal hub for distribution of Russian gas to Europe, and Berlin will “handle” any difficulties with Moscow and Putin. Of course, Berlin never consulted with the other EU Member states, much less Kyiv, on what amounts to its narrow-nationalist energy-security plan for Europe.
Once Biden relented and accepted Nord Stream 2 – i.e., accepted that Berlin-Moscow will be able to detour Russian gas supplies around Ukraine using Nord Stream 2 in addition to the already operating Nord Stream 1 – then, and only then, was Berlin willing to make this “deal” with the US to “compensate” and “protect” Ukraine.
I explained to DW that Merkel had not only refused to discuss reasonable compromises or a moratorium on NS2 after Biden came to office, it is evident that she was also uncooperative on important issues of transatlantic relations concerning Russia generally, holding these relations hostage to Biden relenting on Nord Stream 2.
She alluded to this on the day after Biden relented and agreed not to sanction NS2. “Of course, President Biden has now also approached us a bit in connection with the Nord Stream 2 conflict, where we have different views.” and so, she said that “… what now are also the necessary commonalities in the relationship with Russia” could be considered also with the USA, (German WDR interview, 20 May See also my earlier blog post.).
And, Chancellor Merkel had had considerable leverage in this regard. Her government knew Biden strongly wanted to demonstrate allied, transatlantic unity (e.g., a successful G7 meeting and a successful NATO conference, in Europe with Biden attending) to undo the Trump legacy of transatlantic discord before he would, at some point soon, confront Putin (e.g., the Vienna summit).
So, in the opinion of the White House and State Department, according to the latter’s spokesman, they had no choice but to waive sanctions on NS2, to get “our biggest ally” in Europe, “Germany on board”. (e.g., see 21 July press briefing, State Department, starting at 6:40 time stamp, one of many such explanations.)
One can disagree (as I do) or agree with Biden-Blinken’s decision to waive sanctions and make this deal, but one should keep firmly in mind what sort of game the leadership of the USA’s “biggest ally” was willing to play to get its pipeline project with Putin completed. And, this was done despite the fact that Putin had recently put upwards of 150,000 troops surrounding Ukraine’s borders and in the Black Sea (according to an assessment of the EU foreign minister, Borelli) as a “warning” to Kyiv and Nato. .
On the “compensation” deal itself: I stressed that Germany has promised nothing in this deal that one would not already expect from an “ally” whenever Russia disruptions Ukraine’s energy supply or commits new aggression against Ukraine. Germany is simply promising to impose its own sanctions in such a case to limit Russian energy exports to Europe, and work for the EU to do the same.
Meanwhile, there is clearly no trust in Kyiv or Warsaw, or other eastern-EU capitals, that Berlin would actually do this.
There would undoubtedly be obfuscations as to who is responsible for any such breach of the energy security or of the peace in Ukraine heard from many German politicians and officials. The German conduct of the Normandy process to date, with Berlin’s insistence on what is seen as endless, impotent negotiations with Moscow and too often treating of the two sides as both generally at fault, is a case in point, which has greatly lowered Ukrainian’s and others’ confidence in Berlin’s reliability on such matters.
So too, promised German investments in infrastructure throughout the US-backed Three Seas Initiative region, in the eleven eastern-EU Member states, is something Germany long ago should have agreed to. These are infrastructure projects the US Congress already contributed over $1 billion to, to integrate and develop the region, fortifying it against both absorption into the Chinese “Belt and Road” and against dependence on Russian energy supplies. How can it be that Germany only now offers to invest in this new infrastructure needed for so long already by its eastern EU allies?
Meanwhile, Berlin’s promise, under this deal, to invest in green energy in Ukraine is something Germany, for tis own reasons, has been pushing Ukraine to agree on for perhaps two years. The motivation is particularly suspect, as the official monitor of the German energy transition, in its Eighth Monitoring Report, has determined that will be impossible for Germany to produce sufficient renewable energy within its own territory to meet its domestic demand. It therefore called for a push for German investments in renewable energy production abroad, that could supply the Germah homeland, but with German companies keeping the carbon credits. (This is only part of the fallout from the irrational German decision to close its nuclear powerplants by 2022, seventeen plants that had already been producing copious carbon-free, and demonstrably safe energy for decades.)
To be clear: Windmills, German paid-for or otherwise, will not stop Russian aggression against Ukraine. As supposed “compensate” for Nord Stream 2, this is clearly insulting, offering no defense of Ukraine from Russian aggression and designed simply to meet a German need resultant from the technical irrationality, exorbitant costs, and negative social consequences of its domestic, Green-populist Energiewende policies.
As for what Poland, Ukraine, and other allies of Germany and of the USA think about this deal, I told DW that, according to my sources, President Zelensky had refused to meet the US representative who brought the deal to Kyiv on 21 July.
A joint statement of the Polish and Ukrainian foreign ministers, issued later that day, asserts a) they were not included as active participants in these negotiations about their security as they should have been during the formative period, and b) they continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, and the issues is not settled with what they see as an inadequate deal. Note, point a) clearly violates the assurance Secretary Blinken has repeated given, publicly, to Ukraine, Poland and others, that the administration was committed to agreeing “Nothing about you without you.” (It would have been best if he had never given this assurance; its violation has only instilled deeper anger and mistrust in the affected countries.)
However, I stressed to DW: it is remarkable that the US had to go to such lengths to get such meagre “guarantees” and “compensation” from an “ally”, commitments that should have already been long in place as a matter of course.
My general assessment: Russia and Germany have won versus the interests of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and other East and Central European and Baltic allies.