North Stream 2 Pipeline Continues To Cause Geopolitical Upheaval
After the United States prevented Congress from completing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and slapped sanctions on it in mid-December, Russia stepped in. Moscow has now vowed to unilaterally complete the project by 2020, utilizing a Russian pipe-laying ship. Ukraine, like most other Eastern European countries, has criticized the project and also warned Germany of Russia’s expansion of power and further dependence on Moscow.
US Sanctions Have Temporarily Derailed North Stream 2
Nonetheless, Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak said last Friday that he expects the project to be completed in late 2020 despite the temporary halt to construction. Originally, Nord Stream 2 was scheduled for completion in early 2020, with commissioning expected to start a few months later. Around 80 percent of Nord Stream 2 has already been completed. So far, Russian leadership had only spoken of a delay of a few months.
US sanctions had stopped the project when they caused the contracted Swiss company Allseas to pull its ships out of the project. Allseas was unwilling to be punished by the US for its involvement. Unfortunately, particular and specially-designed ships are required to lay the tubes on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, which left the project in temporary shambles.
Russia Promises To Lay Pipe Along The Last 99 Miles Of North Stream 2
However, the Russian ship Akademik Tschersky will now lay the pipes over the last 99 miles (159 km), once it has made its way back from the Far East, where it has been operating and once the needed additional equipment to work in the Baltic Sea has been brought on board. Akademik Tschersky is operated by a subsidiary of Russia’s state energy company Gazprom. A few days ago, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said that despite US sanctions Russia had “certain capacities” to complete the natural gas pipeline “in the foreseeable future,” despite the de facto shutdown via the US Congress.
The US sanctions target companies involved in laying the pipeline and their owners. Penalties include entry bans and freezing of assets in the United States. Germany criticized the US sanctions as “serious interference” in internal affairs. Washington, on the other hand, argues that the project led by the Gazprom group increases Russia’s economic and security influence in Europe to a dangerous level.
Ukraine also warned Germany and France of dependence on Russia in the dispute over the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko stated that Germany’s intention to become more independent through Nord Stream 2 had no effect, as the gas would ultimately “still come from Russia.” Besides, the Baltic Sea pipelines would be empty immediately if Russia was no longer inclined to deliver gas, Prystaiko—who also pointed out that Ukraine always has gas and would also be willing to deliver this via Ukranian pipelines—argued.
Washington And Berlin Divided Over NorthStream 2
Nord Stream 2 has been causing controversy between Washington and Berlin for quite some time. The pipeline has already cost almost ten billion euros and was initially supposed to pump gas to Europe by the end of this year. In the future, Nord Stream 2—like Nord Stream 1—will deliver gas directly from Russia to Germany. So far, Russia has used Ukraine as the leading transit country. Currently, Kyiv and Moscow are working on a new agreement for future gas transit to supply Europe, despite the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s role in the conflict.
However, it is also likely that less Russian gas will be transported through Ukraine in the future. Nord Stream 2 is designed for a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Around 2,300 kilometers of the line with two strands have already been laid.
Meanwhile, Germany has put itself in a rather dubious position right the middle between Russia and the United States. President Trump has long claimed that Germany was uber-dependent on Russia, something the US cannot and will not accept. Congresses’ sanctions are simply the next stage of this conflict in which Germany will eventually need to decide whether Russian gas is worth jeopardizing their bilateral relationship with Washington.