Sanctions fuss over Nord Stream 2 as a theatre of the absurd

Yes, the position of the Ukrainian leadership, shouting in every corner about the need to punish Moscow for building the pipe, looks logical. After the beginning of pumping gas through NSP-2, Kiev will lose billions of dollars of transit fees, and besides, it will be more difficult to blackmail Moscow by cutting off the vent (the less gas will go through the Ukrainian gas transport system, the less dangerous this blackmail will be)

Sanctions fuss over Nord Stream 2 as a theatre of the absurd

However, the willingness of a number of European politicians, including German politicians, to sabotage a pipe that could increase European energy security and supply the European market with large volumes of cheap and reliable gas looks strange. And the readiness of the US to impose sanctions for NSP2, which has nothing to do with the United States itself, is absurd at all.

However, America is not embarrassed by oddities and absurdities – Washington continues its cultural kampf against the Russian project. For example, the other day US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced a new package of sanctions against NSP2. Vessels and a company involved in the construction of the pipe have fallen under them. And Washington has made it clear that these sanctions will by no means be the last.

“We will continue to work with Germany and our other allies and partners to reduce the risks the pipeline poses to Ukraine, as well as to NATO and EU countries near Russia’s borders. We will confront Russia’s dangerous actions, including in the energy sector”, –  Blinken said.

At the same time, everyone (including Anthony Blinken) knows: sanctions against the structures that built NSP2 cannot stop the construction of Nord Stream-2. If only because the pipeline construction was completed back in September, i.e. about two months ago. Certification of the pipeline by the German authorities is underway and, although there are occasional bureaucratic delays in the process, it will definitely be completed successfully next year. Therefore, retrospective sanctions against companies involved in construction do not look strange or ridiculous, but rather foolish.

However, it only looks silly at first glance. The US sanctions policy has its own logic, and it is not about stopping Nord Stream 2, but about minimising the damage to US interests from it.

Thus, the sanctions are a kind of justification on the part of the US leadership. Washington elites still cannot accept that Moscow has succeeded in carrying out a major infrastructure project against the opposition of the United States. That is, simply put, a serious foreign policy defeat for America. They also cannot reconcile themselves to Biden’s recent admission that further serious hindrances to the construction of NSP2 will require sanctions against German companies, which will undermine transatlantic unity. Therefore a number of Western experts, politicians and journalists are calling for Biden to continue his sanctions fight against Nord Stream 2.

And not just as part of the fight for the sake of the fight itself. They point to the fact that Biden and Merkel only agreed to leave Nord Stream 2 alone if Moscow does not use gas as a weapon against European security.

And now Russia has allegedly provoked a gas crisis in the EU on purpose – to force European partners to speed up certification of Nord Stream 2 and forcing the EU to agree to withdraw it from the Third Energy Package and allow it to be filled to capacity. That is, the hope of the project’s opponents that the US will collapse it (for example, by forcing Europe to abandon certification) remains.

And Biden is now effectively trampling on those hopes. Primarily because he does not want to clash unnecessarily with his own hawks (the president’s rating is at an extremely low level because of the coronavirus, inflation and other problems). He is trampling on the hopes of Eastern European countries – Poland, Ukraine – that the US has not abandoned them, that America continues fighting with them, shoulder to shoulder, against the construction of the Nord Stream 2.

Besides, sanctions would be logical if a US-Russian summit was actually being prepared now. What would seem to be the logic here? How can one prepare for a meeting with Putin and at the same time impose sanctions that Sergey Lavrov calls “egregious”? However, firstly, the USA traditionally tries to flex its muscles before any negotiations with great powers, and secondly, Biden has to go to these negotiations as a tough president who “will not let the Russians get away with it”. The irony is that Biden’s image is beneficial for Russia as well; otherwise, when he returns home the press will howl that the president “capitulated to the Russians” (as it was under Trump), after which all agreements between the US and Russian leaders will either be nullified or not implemented.

Finally, post-facto sanctions are important as an example to others – to those individuals and entities who would dare to cooperate with the enemies of the United States, i.e. not only Russia, but also China. By adopting post-construction sanctions, the United States is making it clear that there is no statute of limitations for actions against US interests and that if, so to speak, the United States has not paid attention to their actions today, if today they considered them generally acceptable, then tomorrow the approach may change. As a result, business will blow on the water and initially shun any projects that might cause American displeasure. At least, it will be avoided as long as this business fears the wrath of American economic regulators more than the prospect of quarrelling with China.

Gevorg Mirzayan, Associate Professor at the Political Science Department of the Financial University, RT

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