UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) – The length of each of the reinforced concrete pipes is 11 meters, its weight is 24 tons, and if the consortium led by Russia achieves its own, these pipes will stretch for almost 1,300 kilometers along the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
Pipes are produced by thousands in a factory located on this German island, providing a clear indication that Moscow will soon receive the much needed new means of delivering its gas to Europe.
But what exactly will this 12 billion-dollar pipeline bring to Europe remains the topic of heated debate and could be the subject of heated controversy on Friday, April 27, when President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet in Washington.
From the point of view of its influential supporters, this megaproject, named “Nord Stream -2”, will bring Europe a cheaper and cleaner gas, providing the continent’s energy needs for the coming decades. Opponents, including the United States, see the prospects in a much darker tone: they believe that this pipeline is part of a geopolitical game that will give Russia an opportunity to punish its rebellious neighbors and blackmail those European powers that may allow themselves a sharp rhetoric in the address of Russia, but at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on the supply of its gas.
Even if Russia did not set such a goal, this project has already helped Moscow fulfill one key task, namely, to disunite the West.
“I’ve never seen a commercial project so animatedly discussed at the highest level of European politics,” said Maros Sefcovic, vice chairman of the European Commission for Energy. “This project really disunites the European Union.”
Most sharply, these disagreements are felt in Germany, which should become the final point of the pipeline. Merkel turned into an object of an aggressive lobbying campaign designed to convince her to give up many years of silent support and at the last moment oppose this project.
It is expected that Trump will insist on this when they meet behind closed doors in the White House, and most of the congressmen have already approved sanctions against investors of this project – against a group of companies, among which there are large German firms.
“Germany is linking itself to a pipeline with Russia, and now Germany will pay billions of dollars to Russia for energy. And I ask: what is going on here?” said Trump at a meeting with the leaders of the Baltic States, which was held in April in the White House.
Merkel, who from the very beginning insisted that this project was purely commercial, and that she would not interfere, caused serious excitement, saying recently that “political factors also need to be taken into account.”
This statement, though rather vague, aroused the joy among the pipeline’s opponents, who immediately assumed that the Chancellor, as the leader of the largest economy in Europe, intends to use its influence to obtain a revision of the terms of the project or its curtailment altogether.
However, it is still unclear whether she will do so – and whether she will be able to do so, despite the fact that she is now isolated from her allies, calling for a more assertive position against the enemy who invaded the territory of the neighboring state, interfered in the elections and accused of organizing murders on European soil.
“We see a single, bipartisan approach from the US. We see a close-knit majority within the European Union. There is pressure on Germany from everywhere, “said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee and critic of the project. – But it’s’ too late. It’s really late. Maybe it’s too late.”
Germany gave the final approval for the implementation of this project in March. Preparation for construction in a quiet German port, where this pipeline will have to go ashore, began in January. And, if the consortium planning to build this pipeline is concerned about the obvious changes in Merkel’s position, he does not betray this.
“Everything is going according to plan,” said Jens Mueller, the representative of this project. – We received permits from Germany and Finland. In the coming weeks and months, we will receive new permits. All this gives us the opportunity to build this pipeline as planned.”
Among the countries that should give their consent, was Denmark, where some politicians oppose this project for security reasons. But if the consortium manages to overcome this and some other obstacles, Siberian gas will flow from St. Petersburg along the bottom of the cold Baltic Sea to northeast Germany by the end of next year.
The route of this pipeline repeats the route of the “Nord Stream”, which was built in 2011. The new pipeline will double the volume of Russian gas supplies to Europe via the Baltic Sea.
Europe depends on the gas supplied by Russia, which accounts for a third of natural gas imports to the European Union. In the case of Germany, the largest importer of gas in the world, this dependence is particularly strong: approximately 40% of the gas consumed in Germany is imported from Russia.
This figure will increase substantially if “Nord Stream-2” is launched. From the point of view of the Allies who oppose this project, Germany’s dependence on Russian gas can be a dangerous vulnerability for the country that has taken a tough stance on anti-Russian sanctions, but continues to be cautious and not confront with its much stronger military sense of a neighbor.
“Here the Russians are playing a long game. We have patience, they have determination, “said one Western official, who asked to keep his name secret. “We really believe that the Germans do not see or do not want to see signs that this could have a very negative impact on the future of Europe.”
This official mentioned the possibility of Russia’s military invasion of the Baltic territory and the influence that Moscow will receive by increasing Europe’s dependence on its gas.
“Suddenly, everyone will try to send their troops to the east, and the Russians will simply block the valve,” the official explained. “This is a serious issue for NATO.”
Russia has already done this before. It stopped supplying gas to Ukraine to exert pressure on this former Soviet republic when it tried to get closer to the West.
Ukraine was particularly critical of the construction of the “Nord Stream-2”, because of which it could lose $ 2 billion annually, paid by Russia for the transit of gas through its territory.
In April, Merkel said that during a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, she made it clear that Ukraine can not be removed from the transit business if Nord Stream 2 is to be built. Mr. Sefkovic expressed the hope that the parties would be able to conclude such an agreement that would protect the interests of Ukraine.
But the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, whose country was the victim of Russia’s secret invasion in 2014, expressed deep skepticism, saying that “Nord Stream-2” represents a “serious threat” and supporters of the pipeline are complicit in the Russian hybrid war aimed at weakening the Ukrainian system national security.
Nord Stream 2 has a lot of high-ranking supporters in Germany. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is chairman of the Nord Stream-2, and among his investors are representatives of various European countries.
Brenda Shaffer, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, believes there are compelling reasons to support the project, including Europe’s need to reduce emissions by replacing coal with gas. However, geopolitics, as a rule, drowns out such arguments.
“This has become a litmus test of your attitude towards Russia,” added Shaffer. “If you support it, then your position is not tough enough.”
Critics of the project also ignore the fact that Europe now has more opportunities to provide itself with energy resources than a few years ago, considering the construction of LNG terminals, as Kirsten Westphal, a senior researcher at the German Institute of International Relations and Security, said. This could well limit Russia’s influence.
“Now you have the opportunity to switch,” she added.
The representative of the project Mueller noted that at the heart of the opposition’s arguments is not geopolitics at all, but commercial competition. Other countries, including the United States, want to sell their liquefied natural gas to Europe. “The lion’s share of political arguments are aimed at undermining the position of the future competitor,” he explained.
But in Lubmin – a peaceful coastal city surrounded by pine trees, where the Nord Stream comes to the surface – there is not even a hint of these disputes, and preparations for the construction of the Nord Stream-2 have already begun there.
The pipeline proposed by Russia causes a lot of disagreement within the Western alliance. But in Lubmin – a city located an hour’s drive from the Polish border, which was recently part of East Germany – all this looks like a promising business.
“People here consider Russia a reliable trading partner,” said 51-year-old Mayor of the city Alex Vogt (Axel Vogt). “We do not want to interfere in the policies of the United States and the European Union.” We do not know what interests they pursue.”