U.S. misses opportunities to stop Russian-German gas pipeline
Despite years of behind-the-scenes cajoling and open threats of economic sanctions from two U.S. administrations, Washington appears to have failed to dissuade Germany from moving ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — and Moscow now boasts that the massive Russia-to-Europe project is just months from completion.
Analysts say the U.S. missed key opportunities over the past five years to stop the pipeline, which critics fear will form the backbone of a working relationship between Germany and Russia that could strain NATO, undercut a struggling Ukraine, and threaten the energy security of the U.S. and its allies in Eastern Europe.
It’s not a function of the famously frosty relations between President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. President Obama and his aides also expressed doubts about the project without persuading Berlin to reconsider.
At several major inflection points since 2014, the U.S. might have been able to exploit political divisions in Germany and global anger toward Russia to either stop the project in its tracks or help turn public opinion against it so that it would no longer be politically viable.
At each of those points, however, Washington has been unable to break through.
Top administration officials now acknowledge that their efforts have fallen flat and say the U.S. could pursue economic sanctions against German companies that have done nothing to slow the project’s progress.
“The Germans appear intent on continuing to build that pipeline,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this month. “We had done just about all we can to discourage the Europeans, primarily Germans, from building Nord Stream 2, and we’ve done that without success today.”
Mr. Trump’s frustrations with the pipeline boiled over memorably at a rocky Brussels summit in July when he complained to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Germany was now “totally controlled by Russia.”
“We’re supposed to protect you from Russia, but Germany is making pipeline deals with Russia,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “You tell me if that’s appropriate. Explain that.”
The pipeline, conceived by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom with financial investments from other major international players such as Royal Dutch Shell, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Russian officials said this month that about 621 miles of pipeline have been finished. When completed, Nord Stream 2 is expected to stretch about 745 miles from the Russian city of Vyborg, near the border with Finland to Greifswald in northeastern Germany.
Critics warn that the project will give Russia an even more dominant role as an The 745-mile Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline, which will pump Russian oil directly to Germany, is nearing completion despite open opposition from the U.S. government and concerns from other European states that it will increase the Kremlin’s economic and political leverage in the West. energy supplier to Europe, which Moscow could wield as a geopolitical weapon by threatening to raise prices or cut off supplies. Russia last year sent about 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to Europe — accounting for about 40% of the continent’s total supply — and Nord Stream 2 could double that amount, its architects say.
Eastern European nations such as Poland, with deep-seated historical fears of rising Russian influence, have been among the most vocal within the European Union against Nord Stream 2, but their arguments have not prevailed.
The pipeline also will deliver a huge financial windfall for Germany, which will be transformed into a European energy hub.
With the project nearing completion, analysts say, the European countries backing Nord Stream, led by Germany and Austria, have effectively backed the U.S. into a geopolitical corner.
“The reality is that Germany and Austria have left little choice to the United States in terms of stopping this thing, except with sanctions,” said Alina Polyakova, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the pipeline extensively.
The first Russian natural gas is expected to flow directly to Germany through the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline at the end of the year. A third of the cable have been laid.