Nord Stream 2: Russia’s Leverage Over Europe?

By Charlotte Vreden

A few days ago, the Russian pipelaying vessel ‘Fortuna’ welded the final pipe of the Nord Stream 2 project in the Baltic Sea. This project is highly debated among politicians in Europe and America. Nordic Stream 2 is a 10 € billion project of a new gas pipeline stretching from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea. This pipeline will double the natural gas carrying capacity to Germany, but its completion has been delayed many times due to U.S. sanctions and political struggles. Even though the U.S. waived the sanctions, they remain skeptical towards the future relationship between Europe and Russia, fearing that energy will be utilized as a weapon. Nevertheless, with the aim of European countries to move away from nuclear and coal power, natural gas is becoming of increasing importance for implementing the turnaround in energy policy.

Natural gas is essential for heating, generating electricity, and as fuel for industries; the lines and storage are usable for renewable gas, without alteration or upgrading. This provides us with biomethane and Power-to-Gas. These are powered by electricity of wind and solar energy, which means that natural gas is becoming greener and a vital ingredient for energy without carbon. Climate activists argue that becoming dependent on the pipeline will, understandably, lead to more decades of fossil fuels; however, the amount of gas consumed in Europe is not reliant on pipeline infrastructure but the guidelines of the emission trading system. And even if the pipeline wouldn’t be used, Russia would transport natural gas to the E.U. through Ukraine.

Russia is leading in the export of pipeline gas with 197.2 billion cubic meters and 40.4 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (2020), followed by the United States, Qatar, and Norway. However, the amount of natural gas that is being exported through the North Sea is consistently reducing. This is because liquefied gas from the U.S. is gained through hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Fracking is a method of obtaining oil and gas by drilling deep into the ground, creating small explosions mixed with water, sand, and chemicals to break the shale rock formations that hold gas and oil. If this process goes wrong and oil or gas wells are not properly secured, this process can poison groundwater, pollute surface water, damage landscapes, and threaten wildlife. This method is ecologically concerning and expensive for the importing countries, leading to Europe turning to Russia’s natural gas.

Nevertheless, concerns considering Europe’s security and dependency remain prevalent. As soon as the Nord Stream 2 pipelines are launched, Ukraine is forced to optimize its system, making it impossible for Europe to return to Ukraine. This seems particularly dodgy when we are reminded of the year 2009. In 2009, the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine intensified, leading to 18 European countries freezing in the middle of winter as gas reserves in the European storage would not compensate for the lack of Russian gas. Whether it be the case of opposition leader Navalny or the Crimean Crisis, Putin’s regime is progressively disputed in politics, specifically when considering that Russia has the option to pressure Ukraine as a transit country through the pipeline. Ukraine has been highly dependent on Russian transfer fees in the past, and the common goal of the European Union’s foreign policy is to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression.

Whereas the U.S., a competing exporter for natural gas, claims that Nord Stream 2 would uphold Russia’s economic and political power over Europe, Russia and Germany insist that it is a commercial project. Previously, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on vessels involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline construction, delaying the project’s construction. This was primarily due to a Swiss pipelaying company (Allseas) suspending activity after introducing the U.S. sanctions legislation. Now, with a new administration in the white house, the American and German governments came to a joint agreement that would enable the pipeline’s completion. Additionally, both parties assure that they are prepared to impose sanctions “should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine.” Moreover, Germany will use available leverage to extend the Russia-Ukraine transit agreement by ten years, which is supposed to expire in 2024. Germany will also contribute millions to the 1 billion “Green Fund for Ukraine”, which aims to improve Ukraine’s energy independence.

Stopping the launch of Nord Stream 2 will neither change Europe’s dependency on Russian gas nor will it save the environment. Instead, the problem seems to be a general distrust of the Putin administration and protecting Ukraine’s national security and independence. At the same time, the limitations of Europe’s energy policies due to the U.S. imposing sanctions should be of equal concern.

For more information on PtG, see: ‘Power-To-Gas – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics’.
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