The history of the gas dispute between Berlin and Moscow is repeating itself

The history of the gas dispute between Berlin and Moscow is repeating itself

The “gas conflict” between Germany and Russia is gaining momentum

Because of the Western sanctions, the supply of the blue fuel to Europe is at risk – the main operating gas pipeline, Nord Stream 1, is operating at only 20% of its capacity. The consequences for Germany have been dramatic: a sharp economic decline, a general rise in the cost of living, increased social tensions and radicalisation.

Gerhard Schroeder, the former Chancellor of Germany, a Social Democrat who is actively involved in solving the energy crisis and recently visited Moscow, stated that all the blame for the delay in resuming supplies lies with Siemens. The SPD accused him of “thinking like a businessman, not a politician” and raised the issue of expelling him from the party. However, a disciplinary commission meeting still ruled that he had not violated party order.

Formally, the main problem hindering the return of gas supplies to Germany remains the unclear situation with one of the main turbines of the Russian gas pipeline, which was due to undergo scheduled repairs in Canada this summer by Siemens, the main supplier of the energy equipment. Initially, Ottawa refused to return the unit to its Russian owner, Gazprom, citing sanctions legislation.

However, Germany still managed to persuade its transatlantic partners to return the turbine. However, it did not arrive in Russia, but in the German town of Mülheim an der Ruhr, where the Siemens plant is located. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz even arrived there to personally evaluate readiness of the part for launching into operation (to all appearances, educated labour law lawyers, among whom Mr Scholz belongs, have a special gift for visual engineering evaluation of a technical product).

Moscow, on the other hand, is in no hurry to transport and put it into operation stressing that due to sanctions at the moment it is impossible to verify the quality of the maintenance. At the same time, the Russian side also points out that it would like clarification regarding the legal status of all technological processes related to the supply of gas to Europe and a full understanding of their sanctioned (or non-sanctioned) status. The situation seems to be unprecedented. However, the history of Russian-German energy cooperation has already seen similar examples.

The active development of new oil and gas fields in the post-war years encouraged the Soviet leadership to push the development of export capacity. At that time, the Soviet Union did not possess the appropriate technology. Therefore, high hopes in this respect were placed on large-diameter pipes deliveries from the Federal Republic of Germany, which became possible after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Bonn in 1955.

However, political events soon intervened in the business process: in reaction to the erection of the Berlin Wall German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, under pressure from Washington, demanded a freeze on signed contracts. German industrialists who suffered huge losses were caught unprepared by this measure. The business community was very unhappy about the suspension of a lucrative project, especially in view of the looming general economic downturn in the country. Last but not least, these problems contributed to the declining popularity of the then ruling CDU party.

The USSR was forced to speed up the development of its own production, and by 1963 a pipe of the required diameter was created in the shops of the Chelyabinsk Tube-Rolling Plant. The episode hit the world media because one of the workers wrote the phrase “Pipe to you, Adenauer!” on it, which immediately became a historical meme.

Notable gas exports from the USSR to Europe started in the second half of the 1960s, mainly to the socialist bloc countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. At the same time, it is interesting to note that the US once again began to view this through the prism of politics, viewing the development of the gas transportation system in Eastern Europe as a factor of increasing Soviet influence over the Warsaw bloc countries.

When the Social Democrats led by Willy Brandt came to power in Germany and proclaimed the idea of a new “eastern policy” of rapprochement with the USSR, the issue of expanding energy cooperation between Bonn and Moscow was back on the agenda. In 1970 the so-called “deal of the century” was concluded, involving the delivery of high-tech pipes made in Germany to the USSR in return for Soviet gas. In fact, the economic rise of West Germany, driven by cheap Soviet raw materials, started from there.

However, in 1981, in reaction to the introduction of Soviet troops in Afghanistan and the suppression of the Solidarity Party protests in Poland, the United States imposed sanctions on the Urengoi-Uzhgorod gas pipeline under construction, prohibiting the delivery of any equipment made by American or West European companies. But eventually, through difficult negotiations, these restrictions were overcome as well.

History clearly demonstrates that stable and uninterrupted energy cooperation between Germany and Russia is not at all beneficial for the United States. By the way, in 2020, Peter Altmaier, the then Federal Minister of Economy, speaking at the event marking the 50th anniversary of the “deal of the century”, said frankly: “We did not agree with many things that the USSR did at that time … but it remains true that, regardless of the political circumstances, gas supplies, compliance with supply obligations were never threatened. And this shows that it is possible to build advanced economic relations, but it has to be fought for and invested in”.

Indeed, Berlin has to fight for its own economic well-being. There have even been proposals in German politics to launch Nord Stream 2, which was blocked at the insistence of the US. So far, however, Chancellor Scholz has completely denied this option. Anyway, Germany has to formulate a clear position on gas supply by winter. The historical experience shows that German industrialists, who truly understand the price of long-term cooperation with Russia, are the most rational ones in this respect.

Evgenia Pimenova, Izvestia

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