Why opponents of Nord Stream-2 do not admit defeat

As a child, I loved to play chess and often acted according to the principle “I don’t give up”. That is, even in an absolutely hopeless position, I tried to play out the game to the end – that is, to checkmate. Childish stubbornness and adherence to principles is now being shown by Ukraine, the Baltic countries and the United States in the history of Nord Stream-2.

Why opponents of Nord Stream-2 do not admit defeat

The game, in fact, has already been hopelessly lost. Pipe-laying was completed on September 10th. The benefits of “Nord Stream-2” (against the background of the raging energy crisis in the European Union, as well as the further degradation of Ukrainian statehood) is obvious to everyone. Now the pipe certification process is underway and, despite a number of technical and bureaucratic obstacles, it should be completed in 2022. Thus, “Nord Stream-2” is an objective reality that many need – however, the United States continues to fight against it for some reason, amid the shouts of approval from Ukraine and the Baltic states. And not only with the help of talks about some kind of “energy weapon of Moscow”, but also with the help of sanctions against companies and ships that helped lay the pipe along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

Planning horizons

It is easy to understand Ukraine – Kiev’s position is rational both from an economic and an internal political point of view. The Ukrainian authorities understand that it is impossible to disrupt the launch of Nord Stream-2 (unless by provoking a major war with the participation of Russia, which will force Moscow, on the one hand, and Washington, Brussels and Berlin, on the other, to scatter through the trenches). However, it is quite realistic to delay the launch. And the later gas supplies from Russia to the EU through Nord Stream-2 begin, the more money Ukraine will receive for the transit of Russian gas through its territory. Yes, you won’t breathe enough before you die, and the transit of gas through the Ukrainian gas transportation system will sooner or later be reduced – however, the Ukrainian leadership is not engaged in strategic planning: its horizon of thinking is at most one electoral cycle, or even “we would have to stand for a day and a night to hold out”. Otherwise, Kiev would be engaged in increasing the competitiveness of the Ukrainian gas transmission system – it would find funds for its repair, would introduce adequate transit prices.

In addition, the fight against Nord Stream-2 is the most important tool for maintaining the remnants of the internal political legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government. In the absence of big victories – major economic projects, foreign policy successes, etc. Ukrainian state propaganda begins, in censorship terms, to pester mice. That is, to take some small achievement and spin it up to a great breakthrough. These minor achievements may include Zelenskiy’s visit abroad, the supply of American Javelin anti-tank systems, the Turkish Bayraktar strike in Donbas – and, of course, the sanctions against Nord Stream- 2.

Which, according to Ukrainian propaganda, were introduced at the suggestion of Kiev, conveying to the West the idea that “Nord Stream-2” is not a Ukrainian, but a common European problem. And oddly enough, such passages are quite successfully sold among the Ukrainian population, who have long associated Nord Stream-2 not with the desire of the Russian Federation to provide cheap and reliable gas transit to Europe, but with the next fact of Moscow’s aggression against the sovereignty of Ukraine.

You can also understand the Poles and the Balts, who are actively drowning against the “Nord Stream-2”. For all these countries, resistance to the project is of great ideological significance (“we are an outpost of the civilized world in the matter of defending against Russian aggression”). In addition, for Poland it is also a foreign policy issue. After the construction of Nord Stream-2, Germany will become the most important gas distribution hub, which will strengthen Berlin’s position in Central and Eastern Europe. Poles, claiming leadership in this region and not feeling great love for the Germans, are trying to delay this unpleasant moment as much as possible.

And what is the interest of the Americans, who are the main driver of the sanctions struggle against Nord Stream-2? Economically, unwillingness to create a competitor in Europe for suppliers of liquefied natural gas from the United States? So, firstly, American LNG producers are now sending gas to East Asia, and not to Europe. In addition, the economic disadvantages of the Nord Stream-2 sabotage may exceed the potential advantages. Even the German Greens (a political force loyal to the Americans, now included in the FRG government) oppose further sanctions struggle, since this struggle will hit German companies. The Greens, who have always fought with this gas pipeline, cannot understand what kind of friendship (with America – author’s note) can be talked about when friends are subject to sanctions if they do business with third parties. The gas pipeline was and remains a wrong decision of Germany, but not of America, said Omid Nuripur, a party spokesman for foreign policy.

Akella can’t miss

And nevertheless, the interest of the United States is there. Moreover, the interest is not so much selfish and momentary (as in Ukraine), but strategic. In foreign policy as well.

First, do not forget that the anti-Russian agenda is one of the few that now unites the Republican and Democratic parties. A kind of platform where parties can cooperate and develop relationships. Joseph Biden is well aware that such cooperation can backfire on America and his strategies to strengthen American alliances (see “Even the Greens are unhappy”), but with his low rating he cannot publicly speak out against new sanctions. Therefore, according to The Hill, he has to quietly ask the Democratic leaders of Congress not to impose such sanctions, which he cannot overturn by his presidential decision.

Secondly, the United States does not need the resounding success of Russia in the history of the “Nord Stream-2”. It’s not just about building a pipeline in Europe, but about Moscow’s victory over Washington. About the displayed political will and perseverance that helped Russia to implement a serious geopolitical project across the will and resistance of the great superpower. As a result, a precedent is created – a kind of blunder of Akella. And other countries, seeing that Russia’s tenacity has brought it victory, can defend their interests much more strongly against potential American pressure. That is why sanctions are needed after the fact, after the completion of the construction of the pipe – not in order to stop an already completed project, but in order to punish companies for participating in it. So that any other company that wants to participate in other projects that are unpleasant for America understands that the US refusal to impose sanctions for this participation here and now does not mean that America will not impose them sometime later.

As for the participation of the United States in delaying the certification of Nord Stream-2, then everything is obvious here too. America cannot stop the certification itself (as it could not stop construction) – but it can make sure that certification is completed after Putin and Biden reach some compromise solutions in their negotiations. And the reason is not only that the Nord Stream-2 certification will be a bargaining chip in these negotiations. The United States will declare that the successful passage of all bureaucratic procedures by Nord Stream-2 became possible only because America removed all objections. Yes, this is similar to the permission of the pharaoh to the sun to rise in the east – but there is already a question of the professionalism and quality of American propaganda. And the US still has no other options to minimize the damage to the American global strategy from the Russian victory.

So in international relations it is sometimes useful to play out an absolutely hopeless game to the end. It will be easier to play in other parts later.

Gevorg Mirzayan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, VZGLYAD

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