Nord Stream 2 will test the European solidarity of the new German government

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Supporters of the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline like to claim that it will strengthen European energy security. In reality, the opposite is true. If pipeline certification continues, the entire continent will be more exposed than ever to energy blackmail and insecurity of supply.

Nord Stream 2 unravel the existing public transport system, which has a large spare capacity and presents a strong mix of land and submarine gas corridors. In its place could emerge a fragile and unbalanced gas transport system controlled by a single Russian state-owned company with a record of repeated use of energy as a geopolitical weapon.

As the new Baltic Sea pipeline connects Russia directly to Germany, the envisaged gas flows will transit downstream to Italy, Austria and the wider region of Eastern and Central Europe. In this sense, Germany will assume the role of Ukraine’s gas transit, depriving Ukraine of what is a crucial strategic asset for national security.

The recently concluded coalition talks in Berlin offer Germany a new opportunity to reject this perilous project and to prioritize European interests over narrow commitments made by the previous administration under very different geopolitical circumstances.

Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the German Greens and candidate for the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new government, has already shown courage and leadership in denouncing Russian energy blackmail. Germany’s coalition agreement makes no explicit reference to Nord Stream 2. However, it states unequivocally that EU energy law “applies to energy projects in Germany”.

As the construction of Nord Stream 2 is now complete, Gazprom wishes to present its certification as inevitable. This is a false story. The only fatality here is that this project will weaken Europe. Everything else, including the possible denial of certification, belongs to Germany and the European Union. The new German coalition now has a unique opportunity to safeguard regional stability and do the right thing.

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Russian gas already accounts for over 60% of Germany’s gas imports. Nord Stream 2 would only deepen this dangerous over-dependence.

Meanwhile, a second Baltic Sea gas pipeline would serve as a powerful deterrent to prevent further investment in possible competing projects capable of diversifying Germany’s energy supplies. This would make Gazprom’s already dominant position unassailable.

The risks that this poses are obvious. Gazprom has repeatedly violated EU competition laws in EU member states, while in recent months the market has witnessed politically motivated behavior by the Russian energy giant. Abuses of this nature will only intensify if Gazprom takes control of the supply routes.

Perhaps the most telling argument against Nord Stream 2 is the simple fact that it’s not necessary. The existing energy transmission infrastructure provides sufficient capacity of about 270 billion cubic meters per year (bcm) for current and future Russian gas exports to Europe, estimated at 200 bcm. Rather than increasing this capacity, Nord Stream 2 will reduce delivery options and remove market flexibility.

Without significant transit volumes comparable to the figures of the existing 5-year transit contract between Ukraine and Russia, Ukraine’s gas transmission system manager (GTSOU) will have to be reconfigured and downsized. It would be neither fair nor feasible to shift the costs of unused infrastructure onto energy consumers or Ukrainian taxpayers. If, as expected, Russia decides to end transit through Ukraine, this will therefore irreparably weaken the entire European transit ecosystem.

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The consequences of a deterioration in the security of gas supply to Europe will be felt for decades. According to current estimates, natural gas is expected to remain an important part of the EU’s energy mix until 2050. Most forecasts predict gas demand to be stable until 2030, then gradually declining thereafter. Reducing the diversity of sourcing and delivery options while relying on a single route will compromise the security of supply for all European consumers.

The numerous claims made by Russian officials that GTSOU’s infrastructure is old and unreliable are unfounded and unfounded. In fact, Ukraine’s transport system has proven its reliability over many years of uninterrupted delivery, only Russian stops causing disruption.

This is not the case with pipelines controlled by Gazprom. In addition to routine maintenance interruptions on Nord Stream 1 and Turk Stream, the Russian gas transmission system has also experienced many exceptional interruptions.

A comparative analysis of methane emissions downstream from Russian and Ukrainian gas transmission networks published by the International Energy Agency offers a clear indication of the quality of the infrastructure. The figures speak for themselves: in 2020, the Russian transport network was responsible for 23 times more methane leaks than the Ukrainian network.

If Nord Stream 2 goes live, Ukraine’s GTSOU pipeline network will soon become a stranded infrastructure asset. This will reduce the number of entry points into the EU from four to one, giving Russia a much tighter grip on gas supplies.

Ending the physical transport of gas through Ukraine would also put an end to virtual reverse flows as an effective mechanism to facilitate natural gas trade between at least ten European countries interconnected through the Ukrainian gas pipeline network. The loss of the virtual reverse will lead to an increase in unnecessary CO2 emissions and reduce the ability of European suppliers to use Ukraine’s gas storage system, further compromising European energy security.

Certification of Nord Stream 2 is clearly not in Europe’s interest. As Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during a recent visit to Washington, “Nord Stream 2 is not just a Ukrainian problem, it is a European problem”.

It is no longer possible to ignore or deny Russia’s militarization of energy. If Berlin, Brussels and Washington don’t stop this dangerous project now, the long-term security implications will be serious. Ukraine will be irreversibly weakened, while Germany and Europe as a whole sleepwalks in a perpetual gas crisis.

Olga Bielkova is director of governmental and international affairs of the operator of the gas transport system of Ukraine GTSOU and a former member of the Ukrainian parliament (2012-2020).


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Image: Pending German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pictured in September 2021 (images imago / photothek via Reuters Connect)



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