Nord Stream 2 is a 745-mile pipeline stretching between Ust-Luga, near Russia’s western border with Estonia, and Greifswald, in northeastern Germany, intended for the supply of natural gas to Central Europe via the Baltic Sea.
Construction on the project was completed in September 2021 at a cost of £8.3bn but has yet to receive the necessary European regulatory approval to allow its operator, Russian state gas giant Gazprom, to turn on the taps.
That may never happen now, after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that the pipeline would be blocked in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, February 24.
Scholz said Berlin would have to “re-evaluate” the project in light of recent developments, warning: “It will certainly take time, if I may say so.”
At the moment, the chance of the project receiving final approval seems very remote.
Nord Stream 2 would have allowed Russia to pump an additional 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Germany each year, doubling its current capacity and increasing its regional power dominance.
The original Nord Stream pipeline was completed in 2012 and runs parallel to its new companion and also ends in Greifswald, but has a different point of origin – Vyborg on the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland.
Perhaps most significantly, given the current crisis, the two pipelines together would have allowed Russia to send gas westward by means other than directly through its neighbour’s territory, which it previously depended on and for which Kyiv received lucrative transit fees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, is said to have resented Ukraine’s independence since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, particularly his desire to secure greater military protection upon joining NATO.
Like its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 or the subsequent recognition of pro-Russian breakaway regimes in the eastern industrial center of Donbas, the pipeline can be seen as yet another punishment for Kyiv’s rejection of its influence.
His Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, has previously warned that the Nord Stream project represents a “dangerous geopolitical weapon” and is not alone among world leaders fearing that Russia may have used it to exert political influence over the EU, threatening to withhold gas in winter if your political whims are not catered for.
Germany, under its former chancellor Angela Merkel, has long dismissed such blackmail fears as hysterical, insisting the project was a purely commercial venture that will allow it to heat 26 million homes and help transition away from nuclear power.
However, with Europe already mired in an energy crisis and Gazprom recently refusing to restock its stores on the continent to the extent expected to protect itself from exposure, Russian cruelty must be taken for granted.
While the UK gets just 4 percent of its gas imports from Russia, Germany gets 57 percent and Hungary, Lativa, Bosnia and North Macedonia 100 percent, underscoring the power of the cards that Moscow holds, with the American investment Stifel recently warning that gas prices could quadruple shall war break out like now.
Prior to his announcement, Scholz had visited the White House to discuss tactics with US President Joe Biden, after which the pair held a joint press conference in which the American warned Putin he would not hesitate to “finish” Nord Stream 2. in case he makes the “giant mistake” of invading Ukraine.
Meanwhile, its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, went on to assure Europe that the US would support its energy needs should difficulties arise.
“We are working together now to protect Europe’s energy supply against supply shocks, including those that could result from further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” he said during a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. .
Blinken said coordination efforts with allies and partners included “the best way to share energy reserves in the event that Russia turns off the tap or starts a conflict that disrupts the flow of gas through Ukraine.”
The US has long been opposed to both pipelines – even Donald Trump attacked it at a NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also signaled in advance that stopping pipeline activation was “one of the few chips that can make a difference”.
Previously, Germany was reluctant to grant Ukraine significant military support despite pressure from the international community to do so, presumably because of its tangled energy concerns.
However, it has other potential options for its gas supply besides Nord Stream 2, including taking deliveries from Norway, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Denmark, so it doesn’t have to feel trapped in the bailout.