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Dispute over Nord Stream 2: The buck has to go to Moscow


The completion of Nord Stream 2 will put a strain on Germany's relations with the EU and the USA; a demolition would cause great economic damage. There is a way out of this dilemma.

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Russian laying ship "Fortuna" (archive picture)

Photo: Bernd Wüstneck / picture alliance / dpa

The new American President Joe Biden and the other speakers for the special edition of the Munich Security Conference last Friday sent a strong signal of transatlantic renewal.

Together they announced a new blossoming of the transatlantic partnership and a determination to tackle global challenges such as pandemics and climate change as a team.

To the author

Icon: enlarge Photo: Kay Nietfeld / picture alliance / dpa

Wolfgang Ischinger

was State Secretary at the Foreign Office and has been Chairman of the Munich Security Conference since 2008.

He teaches at the "Hertie School of Governance" in Berlin.

Of course, it could be argued that what was not mentioned was as important as what was mentioned.

One point of contention that, interestingly, did not come up was the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Even if the topic did not fit into the conciliatory rhetoric of our event, it still represents one of the most difficult current challenges for German foreign policy and needs to be tackled urgently .

Otherwise this point of controversy threatens to turn into a serious diplomatic traffic accident, with considerable damage potential for the relationship with our eastern neighbors, with the European Union and especially with the United States.

Whether the pipeline is a private project or not is no longer relevant to foreign policy.

What is relevant today are perceptions - and internationally the pipeline is viewed as an important political and strategic issue that threatens the trust that has built up over decades in Germany and its commitment to European unity and transatlantic commonality.

Berlin must take that seriously!

Whether the pipeline is a private project or not is no longer relevant to foreign policy.

What is relevant today are perceptions.

As is so often the case in foreign policy, this is not a really good option.

But what is clear is that ignoring the growing international criticism would be a particularly bad option.

Even if Berlin could withstand criticism within the EU, the White House will most certainly want to avoid the impression that it is now pursuing a softer course towards Moscow, just a few weeks after Joe Biden's inauguration.

As in the case of China, there is a broad and strong consensus against Nord Stream 2 in the US Congress that the White House can hardly ignore.

In other words: If Berlin just continued as before without any consideration, we would risk an early end to the transatlantic "honeymoon" before a new, trust-based transatlantic relationship can even be established.

An equally bad option would be to stop the construction of the pipeline at this late stage by a government decision in Berlin.

On the one hand, this would result in laborious and costly claims for damages as well as the billion-dollar pipeline ruin on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.

On the other hand, there is no getting around the fact that Germany and other European partners will need Russian gas for many years to come.

For decades, Germany could assume that Russia was and is a reliable supplier that has never brought the gas supply relationship into play politically against Germany and its NATO partners.

If Berlin were to bury the pipeline project now for political reasons, Russia would almost certainly not be prevented from responding accordingly.

As an alternative, a moratorium on pipeline construction has been proposed.

But what exactly would such a moratorium do?

If we wanted to link the lifting of a moratorium to changes in Russian policy or behavior, we would fall into the classic trap that regularly results from such red lines.

If Russia then refused to comply with our demands, the moratorium would quickly turn into a permanent freeze if Berlin did not want to lose face completely.

more on the subject

  • Post from Augstein: The evil gasA column by Franziska Augstein

  • Pipeline dispute with the USA: How we can come to an agreement with Antony Blinken on Nord Stream 2 A guest post by Nils Schmid, SPD

Another, somewhat less unattractive version could be not to prevent the completion of the pipeline construction, but to link its use to Russian behavior in coordination with the EU.

For example, you could think of the following three steps:

First, Berlin could offer to install an emergency braking mechanism in coordination with the EU.

The emergency brake could then be pulled, for example, if Russia should not keep its promises made with regard to future use of the Ukrainian gas transit infrastructure.

Such an emergency brake would be nothing more than a confidence-building measure towards Kiev, Warsaw, Brussels and Washington.

Second, Germany could propose a "Euro-Atlantic Energy Compact".

Such a comprehensive plan, which could include the European Union and Eastern European neighbors as well as transatlantic partners, could pursue three objectives, among others:

  • Material and technological support for the pan-European energy transformation towards renewable energies

  • Strengthening the integrity of the European gas market

  • Increased support for the development of Ukraine

Third: Berlin could inform Gazprom, the building contractor and main owner of the pipeline, that resistance to the project has increased so massively, both in German politics and internationally, that the German government does not consider it possible to turn the gas tap under the current circumstances Completion of the pipeline actually open.

Berlin could point out that the bilateral relationship with Russia has reached a low point, starting with serious hacking attacks and disinformation campaigns, to the public horror at the Russian behavior in the Navalny case, to Russian contract killings on the territory of EU members towards the lack of Russian willingness to enable political solutions to bloody conflicts such as Donbass or Georgia.

The message to Gazprom would have to be formulated very clearly in such a way that, given the current situation, it was up to Moscow to create the conditions and the atmosphere so that Berlin could give the green light for starting the pipeline.

That way, the buck would be where it belongs - namely in Moscow.

In any case, Berlin should coordinate closely with the EU, with partners such as Ukraine and with Washington on how to proceed.

In this way the new transatlantic trust could develop further and a heavy millstone around the German neck could be turned into an interesting approach to strategic and constructive East-West negotiations.

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Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2021-02-27

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