This week, with over a third of the infrastructure for the $11.7 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline laid down along the bottom of the Baltic Sea, US lawmakers mulled slapping the project’s participants with sanctions, while MPs in Brussels defied Berlin and adopted a resolution urging the EU bloc to stop the energy project.
The latest assault on Nord Stream 2 began last Wednesday, when US State Department European Office deputy director Nicole Gibson warned that European companies would face “risk significant sanctions” if they didn’t abandon the project. Refusing to go into detail, Gibson said that Washington didn’t see Nord Stream as “a fait accompli,” and called on European leaders “to make sure Nord Stream 2 is not implemented.”
A few days later, US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland penned an op-ed in the Financial Times in which he accused “Mr. Putin” of using “gas as a political weapon” and boldly argued that “further European energy dependence on Russia makes little sense.”
Instead, Sondland suggested, Europe should turn to “better choices,” including the US’s more expensive liquefied natural gas (LNG), which requires additional processing, ocean transport, and specially-equipped terminals across Europe. Admitting that Russian gas was “a bit cheaper,” Sondland claimed that the US, projected to become the world’s third largest exporter of LNG this year, could boast something that Russia couldn’t – being “a solid, reliable partner” for Europe.
The day after Sondland’s op-ed was published, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution urging EU members to cancel Nord Stream 2, slap Russia with new sanctions and limit Moscow’s access to finances and technology. According to the resolution, the project threatens to strengthen the bloc’s “dependence” on Russian gas, and doesn’t comply with the EU’s strategic interests.
Speaking to Sputnik about the parliament’s decision, European Commission policy coordination unit chief Paula Pinho said that only Europe’s energy market would be able to decide if the Nord Stream project was “worth it or not in terms of the overall needs of the EU.”
According to energy economics analyst and Sputnik contributor Maxim Rubchenko, Washington’s decision to threaten its European allies with sanctions, (which senators have actually walked back on this week), has actually sparked the opposite reaction from the one the US was trying to achieve.
Last week, an anonymous German official familiar with the Nord Stream 2 project told the Wall Street Journal that Berlin would “do anything it takes to complete this pipeline,” adding that Germany sees US sanctions threats against the energy project as a call to “confrontation, not just with Germany, but with Europe.”
German media has been similarly critical of the US’s ‘paternalistic concerns’ over Europe’s ‘dependence’ on Russian gas, with Heise Online contributor Florian Rotzer explaining that “when the US government seemingly disinterestedly warns Germany and the Europeans about excessive dependence on Russian gas, behind this, naturally, is a plan to increase Europe’s energy dependence on the US or at least one of its allies.”
“After all, although the US has become one of the largest producers of oil and gas through fracking, the relatively high costs of fracking mean that it gas cannot be purchased as cheaply as Russia’s pipeline gas,” Rotzer added. According to the journalist, Washington’s anti-Nord Stream concerns aren’t about energy diversification, but about a strategy of “American ‘energy dominance’ to be achieved worldwide.”
As for the European Parliament’s anti-Nord Stream 2 resolution, Rubchenko suggested that, for the most part, it can be safely ignored. “Such documents are non-binding and, more importantly – the end of May will see elections to the representative body, and its composition substantially updated” to include nationalist and populist forces more inclined to considering their own pragmatic interests “than Washington’s opinions or Kiev’s complaints.”
With Ukraine facing its own presidential elections in March, “it’s entirely possible that Kiev’s approach to energy cooperation with Russia in the gas sector may change as well. So the ‘spring aggravation’ of the opponents of Nord Stream 2 may well be their last,” the observer concluded.
Nord Stream 2 is a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom, Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV and the Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, envisioning the construction of a gas pipeline along the bottom of the Baltic Sea from northwestern Russia to northeastern Germany. When completed later this year, the pipeline is expected to add an additional 55 billion cubic meters per year in capacity to the existing 55 billion cubic meter per year Nord Stream infrastructure.