My TRT StraightTalk: Nord Stream 2: Europe’s Energy crisis, Putin’s lever, Ukraine’s plight, & Berlin’s complicity

StraitTalk, 8 October. My comments (from Berlin) begin at 2:30, with Aura Sabadus of ICIS (in London) and TRT’s Ause Suberker interviewing (in Stockholm).

On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker.  We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline. 

I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe

Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Putin’s regime has wanted to reincorporate Ukraine and Belarus, and began building alternate pipelines to Europe avoiding these countries. First came Nord Stream 1 to Germany in partnership with Chancellor Schröder (SPD party), then Angela Merkel (CDU/CSU parties), completed in 2011. Filling this pipe with 55 billion cubic meters per year allowed him to reduce flows accordingly via Ukraine.

Then, in 2014, he invaded Ukraine and his remaining flows of gas via Ukraine, from Moscow’s point of view, were an unwanted “strategic” “dependency” he wanted to escape, to be free to broaden his war.

Immediately, in 2015, Moscow and Berlin, Putin and Merkel, finalized plans for an identical twin, Nord Stream 2, to be built alongside Nord Stream 1.

In addition Putin and Gazprom built a third detour-pipeline into Europe, this one via the Black Sea and Turkey into the Balkans, in the southeast of Europe, and just this month, this new flow has allowed Gazprom to cut further the supplies it has to flow across Ukraine.

Now, Nord Stream 2 is also completed, but not yet in service.  It must be in compliance with EU law to be brought into service. If there is truly “rule of law” in the EU, the existing EU laws would impose constraints on Moscow’s use of this pipeline which it would be very unhappy with.  The law could potentially limit flows and force Gazprom to sell the pipeline to a genuinely neutral third party, so as to avoid it gaining yet more of a monopolist position in Europe.

In any case, if Gazprom is allowed to fill this pipeline with gas, flowing into Germany and from there to Gazprom’s EU customers, Putin will certainly cut off the remaining flows (40 billion cubic meters/year) that still transit Ukraine into the EU market.

Not only will Ukraine lose a valuable source of income (roughly equal to their defense budget), but this means Putin and his clique in the Kremlin will have be facing no economic consequences, no loss of their natural-gas export business in Europe to constrain his aggression and/or subversion against Ukraine..

German elites, for their part, have been motivated by the deep dependence of Germany and their trading partners in Europe on Russian gas supplies. Berlin governments have sought to avoid what is sees as the “risk” of its Russian gas supplies having to arrive across the “insecure zone” of Ukraine.

In short, both Schröder and Merkel’s governments have been willing to “throw Ukraine under the bus,” as we say in the States, to protect their natural gas supplies. This is a clear case of putting narrow national interests above solidarity with Ukraine in its fight for territorial integrity and independence from Moscow.

As you might imagine, the USA, over four successive administrations now, have opposed German participation in both the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, dating from long before the USA was a natural gas, i.e. LNG, exporting country. Washington’s motivation has been to support the independence and development of democracy in Ukraine and Belarus, while finding means to stepwise alleviate the EU’s deep dependence on Russian gas imports.

On the show we discussed related issues, including the present developing natural gas crisis in Europe, leading up to the coming winter heating season – a season when the winds always blow less, and Europe’s windmills become ever more unreliable, requiring natural gas to quickly come online to generate electricity.

I welcome any comments or critiques. As always, don’t hesitate to comment here or, if you prefer, to twod@umich.edu, my email.

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