Last week, the state owned Russian energy company Gazprom reached a deal with five other major EU energy companies to construct the Nord-Stream 2 pipeline. The pipeline will lay under the Baltic Sea and it will connect Russia to Germany. Nord-Stream 2 will be one of the longest offshore gas pipelines in the world. However, it will also be one of the EU’s biggest mistakes if it allows the project to proceed.
The EU should halt its deal with Gazprom for several reasons.
First, the Russian owned pipeline project would undermine existing sanctions against the Kremlin and the oligarchs that surrounded President Putin during his annexation of Crimea. If the Nord-Stream 2 can clear its remaining judicial hurdles to begin construction, then the EU will lose a great deal of its leverage and power over Russia. Many of the oligarchs surrounding Putin are also the same people linked to the Russian owned Gazprom Company. Therefore, the EU is weakening its own sanctions against some of the most powerful and influential people in the Kremlin. The result will be a less credible and committed EU to punishing President Putin for his illegal transgressions and annexations in Ukraine.
Second, the pipeline will only serve to create greater dependence on cheap Russian energy in Europe, thereby giving Moscow increased leverage over the EU. In the past, Russia has used lucrative energy deals to lure and then manipulate countries into doing business with Kremlin. Akin to an energy addict, Russia supplies cheap natural gas upfront and then raises its price or refuses to provide service to leverage Russian interests. For example, Russia used its cheap supply of energy to inflict harm against Ukraine in 2009, and again in 2014. The Kremlin has also taken similar measures against Belarus, and it controls a disproportionate amount of the oil and gas supplied to many of the European, and central Asian countries as well.
Third, in combination with other pipeline projects such as South Stream, the Kremlin is decoupling its energy interests from its own manufactured conflict in Ukraine. Russia could be simply separating its interests because it fears losing control over the Soyuz and Brotherhood pipelines in Ukraine. However, it is more likely that by constructing alternative pipelines into Europe, Russia can more freely manipulate and cut off energy flows to Ukraine without also affecting its other European customers as well. Once the project is completed, the Kremlin can punish and manipulate Kiev without also disturbing other European countries as the conflict in the Donbas simmers into yet another Russian ‘cold-conflict.’
Russia is very astute in its observance of the greater EU hierarchy. Instead of employing its active measures campaign against every European country on a bilateral basis, Russia is attacking the EU keystone – Germany. It is of little surprise that Nord-Stream 2 is flowing directly into Germany – directly to the EU’s heart and its monetary backbone. The Kremlin will play off Berlin’s desire to be a leader in Europe and it will try to create maximum leverage over Germany as a result. Once Germany begins to export the cheap Russian energy throughout the EU, other countries will become dependent upon Germany in the same manner that Germany is now dependent upon Russia to continue its supply. In Germany’s attempt to remain the EU’s leader and backbone, Berlin will capitulate to Moscow’s demands.