The US government is officially still against Nord Stream 2. With the agreement with Germany, however, it has de facto given up resistance to the completion of the pipeline. There is relief in Berlin – but the problems are far from over.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s farewell visit to US President Joe Biden last week should be all about harmony – if it hadn’t been for the tiresome topic of “Nord Stream 2”. The first question the German reporter asked at the press conference in the White House was again about the old point of contention. “Good friends can have different opinions,” Biden replied diplomatically. Almost a week after Merkel’s visit, Berlin and Washington announced on Wednesday an alleged breakthrough in the conflict over the expansion of the Baltic Sea pipeline. The biggest brake on the intended restart in German-US-American relations has thus been cleared for the time being. The problems associated with the project are not, as the reactions confirm.
Both Biden’s Democratic Party and the Republicans of his predecessor Donald Trump have been storming the pipeline that is supposed to bring even more Russian gas to Germany for years – bypassing Ukraine, which is dependent on billions in revenue from gas transit overland. The US sees Nord Stream 2 as a geopolitical project by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which – according to the US perspective – could increase “Europe’s” dependence on Russian gas. Transatlantic hawks are also accusing Putin of further destabilizing Ukraine because Russia would then no longer be dependent on them for gas transmission. The previous transit contract expires in 2024. Construction work on Nord Stream 2 should be completed by the end of next month.
Sanctions – just how and why?
At the center of the agreement between Washington and Berlin is support for Ukraine, whose dependence on Russia is to be reduced. In a joint declaration with the USA, Germany is now threatening Russia with sanctions if Moscow uses this “energy as a weapon”. However, it is not specified where the red lines actually lie, i.e. which specific behavior would trigger sanctions. The agreement also offers no security for Ukraine on the most important point: Germany undertakes “to use all available means of influence in order to enable Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Russia to be extended by up to ten years”. But there is no guarantee of success for this.
“Good day with good news for Ukraine”
The US side tried on Wednesday to sell the compromise as the lesser evil for Ukraine. The US State Department said that a worse scenario would have been if Nord Stream 2 went into operation without the agreement with Germany and the measures that have now been agreed. “This is a bad situation and a bad pipeline, but we have to help protect Ukraine and I feel that with this agreement we have taken some important steps in that direction,” said US top diplomat Victoria Nuland. The German government’s transatlantic coordinator, Peter Beyer, even spoke of a “good day with good news for Ukraine”.
Less enthusiastic notes from Kiev and Warsaw
In Kiev – but also in Warsaw – there is a different opinion. In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of Ukraine and Poland warned that the agreement “created a political, military and energy threat to Ukraine and Central Europe”. From the office of the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said: “The decision on Nord Stream 2 cannot be made behind the back of all those who really threaten the project.” Before Merkel’s visit to Biden, Zelensky was a guest of the Chancellor in Berlin. The White House announced on Wednesday that Biden would receive the Ukrainian President in Washington, DC in late August. Zelensky’s worries should not change anything there.
Biden threatens trouble with Congress
After the compromise with Germany, Biden has to face tough headwinds from the US Congress. The US Parliament passed sanctions laws against Nord Stream 2 by an overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats – and those laws actually provide for mandatory sanctions against companies that participate in Nord Stream 2. The White House assures that the laws will be obeyed. Biden’s government recently refrained from imposing punitive measures at the Swiss Nord Stream 2 AG and its German managing director – and cited the national interest of the USA as the justification.
“In bed with Putin”
There is no longer any doubt that the pipeline will be completed – at times that seemed to be completely in question due to the threat of US sanctions. Republican Senator Ted Cruz – arguably the most prominent opponent of Nord Stream 2 in the US Congress – spoke of a “geopolitical victory for Putin and a catastrophe for the United States and our allies”. Cruz accused Biden of being “in bed with Putin”. What the Senator from Texas does not mention: His party colleague Trump would have had a far better chance of preventing the pipeline, which was almost completed when Biden took office in January. Trump’s government hesitated until their very last day in office to impose the first sanctions.
“A European problem turned into an American one”
After years of dispute, there is now relief in Berlin over the agreement with the USA on Nord Stream 2. The Europe expert Julia Friedlander from the transatlantic “think tank” Atlantic Council points out, however, that the deal with Washington is not enough – for them Federal government is only now starting the real work. Friedlander says the agreement that has now been reached is the only sensible way out of a “political trap” that Germans and Americans have set for themselves over the years. The expert is also convinced: “Washington has mistakenly turned a European problem into an American one.”
more on the subject – Berlin and Washington announce agreement in the dispute over Nord Stream 2