Germany likes to position itself as the world’s conscience. These days, it’s anything but.
Who can forget an aggressive Angela Merkel standing over a seated Donald Trump during the 2018 G7 summit? Claiming Trump was a threat to global stability, the chancellor tried to intimidate the leader of the free world because he asked Germany to honor its NATO defense-spending commitment.
A strong NATO — in which all members honor their commitments — is the robust Russian deterrent that Merkel didn’t want.
Flash forward to today, and Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz is following in Merkel’s footsteps. Russian troops hover at Ukraine’s border as President Vladimir Putin indulges his fantasy of snatching more land. But rather than push back against Putin — as Trump (and Barack Obama) did through sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project — Germany continues to appease the strongman and endanger Ukraine.
President Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a Sunday phone call, the White House said, that America and our allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine” and “are committed to the principle of ‘no decisions or discussions about Ukraine without Ukraine.’”
But by waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and failing to exert more pressure on a reckless Germany, Biden is effectively allowing an economic invasion of Ukraine, Poland, and the rest of Europe.
Germany is embracing Russia’s Nord Stream 2 for its energy sourcing — ironically a carbon-fuel pipeline, even as Germany shuts down its clean-energy nuclear plants due to irrational fears. In the process, Germany will bypass Ukraine in getting its gas, threatening that nation’s economy and leverage.
Germany propping up Russia’s petrostate has major implications for global stability. Not only do Germany’s actions line Putin’s pockets, they also slam Ukraine, an emerging state desperate to strengthen pro-democracy ties. After all, Putin claims his troop aggression is the result of Ukrainian efforts to further align with the West.
Ukraine earns about $1 billion a year from its current pipeline, money that would dry up upon Nord Stream 2’s completion.
“Ukraine would also lose its influence over Western Europe as its pipelines would become obsolete,” journalist Mark Temnycky observes. “As a result, while Europe would become dependent on Russia, the Russians could further meddle in Ukraine’s affairs without consequence.”
The economy of Poland, another post-Soviet state oriented west, will also suffer under Nord Stream 2, Temnycky notes. Scuttling the current Ukrainian-Polish pipeline would force Poland to import gas from Germany, causing gas prices to rise for Polish families.
Olga Bielkova, an executive at Ukraine’s gas-transportation-system operator GTSOU, says that Russia’s military actions in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine already made two gas interconnection points on the Russian-Ukrainian border inaccessible.
Bielkova warns that if Nord Stream 2 goes ahead, “gas deliveries to Europe through Ukraine will cease completely or, at best, will be severely reduced.” And since 80 percent of GTSOU’s income comes from its international sales, the cost of maintaining its infrastructure “would fall on Ukrainian consumers.”
As soon as Ukraine learned Nord Stream 2 applied for certification with Germany’s energy regulator, GTSOU filed a request asking the Germans to consider risks to Ukrainian security.
Germany is leaving itself vulnerable to the price manipulations of a wily ex-KGB agent. Myron Wasylyk, adviser to Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftogaz Group, said Germany is harming itself by tying its fortunes to such a capricious actor as Putin.
Over the summer, Wasylyk points out, Russia’s Gazprom “diverted gas exports from Europe and simultaneously depleted gas in storage facilities throughout the continent owned by the Russian energy company. At home, Gazprom stockpiled gas in domestic storage and limited export to Europe through traditional pipelines, thereby driving up gas prices to historic levels.”
During winter pricing disputes, Russia cut deliveries of fuel to Ukraine and parts of Europe. Why is Germany asleep at the wheel while Putin thinks nothing of exploiting the bitter cold to enrich his coffers?
Ukraine, meanwhile, has offered reliable gas-pipeline services for more than 30 years.
Both the Trump and Obama administrations rightly opposed Nord Stream 2, arguing it would strengthen Putin’s power over Europe. Biden is lukewarm at best, giving verbal raps on the wrist — White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki says, “Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe” — while waiving sanctions.
Germany and the European Commission are not likely to make a final decision on Nord Stream 2 until the summer. There’s still time for both Biden and Germany to show courage and stop this debacle before it unfolds.
Carrie Sheffield is a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum. She completed a Fulbright fellowship in Berlin studying German media and political economy.