It’s outrageous. Any reasonable human imagination must be offended by the reasoning with which Alexei Navalny was tried and convicted in Russia. It is unclear how far Nawalny’s affection for a liberal rule of law permeated with the idea of tolerance extends. However, this does not matter in view of the fact that it is nonsense in every conceivable respect to accuse a patient who is recovering in Germany that he did not meet probation requirements.
All criticism of Russia’s leadership – both abroad and in Russia itself – is concentrated in Navalny’s fate. Since Vladimir Putin was elected president in 2000, the Russian government has not been so weak. Undoubtedly, the absurd process did not take place without Putin’s word of power. In Germany and other countries, many want to see the head of state punished immediately.
The request is understandable, even if it is delicate from a diplomatic and geopolitical point of view. The chosen means is now anything but obvious: the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, it is claimed, should not be completed. As a result of “solidarity” with the “captured demonstrators” who took to the streets for Navalny, the Green politician Franziska Brantner demanded that construction should now be stopped. If it did, Germany would certainly harm Russia, but first and foremost itself.
Nord Stream 2, although a project approved by the neighboring states and compliant with European law, has always been controversial. As is well known, the Russian government-affiliated company Gazprom is behind the project. There are also some European groups: Royal Dutch Shell in the Netherlands and Britain, Engi in France, OMV in Austria, Wintershall and Uniper in Germany and others. The pipeline is almost ready. The performance of the engineers and all workers is as immense as the whole undertaking: from the gas fields of Siberia through Russia, then under the Baltic Sea to Germany, it’s around 5000 kilometers. The laying of the pipes in Russia was mainly financed by Gazprom. Laying it through the Baltic Sea alone will have cost around 9.5 billion euros in the end.
Notably, the cost is reasonably in line with plans. It is also noteworthy that 9.5 billion euros in comparison to the costs of 8.2 billion euros for the ridiculous Stuttgart 21 train station look like little. The companies involved could probably afford to give up Nord Stream 2 – firing people is part of the business concept of most corporations these days.
Germany could do without Nord Stream 2: Then the citizens would pay more money for the gas, which would then be obtained from conventional and other sources – for example from the expensive fracking gas that the USA extracts under pressure. “Pressure” in many ways. In the United States, the extraction of fracked gas, which is extracted from the earth by means of injected liquids, is destroying entire areas of land. And in the EU, the US has not made itself popular because, with reference to Russia’s machinations, it exerted pressure on companies that participated or wanted to participate in the construction of Nord Stream 2: Sanctions were threatened or imposed, also for the purpose of American fracked gas for sale.
Because moral and economic reasons are intertwined in a tangle in the discussion about Nord Stream 2, a hint from Nikos Tsafos is just right. Tsafos works at the American think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies. His advice is so good that anyone could think of it: The question is not “whether” Nord Stream 2 should be finished; rather, the interests of the various countries should be taken into account.
Let’s do that here, starting with Poland.
The current Polish government relies on nationalism. In memory of Poland’s suffering in World War II and the time under the thumb of the Soviet Union, Russia is not trusted and Germany is little trusted. It has long been customary for Russian gas that arrives in Germany to be pumped back to the east. It is then cheaper there because Germany has good customers and has corresponding discounts. But the Polish government wants to make their country independent of Russian gas. It is better to buy gas from Norway (a new pipeline is under construction) and the more expensive American fracked gas, which is delivered by ship.
Some in Germany are concerned about Ukraine. They fear a Russian invasion. In short, that is unlikely at the moment. Putin has enough problems in the Russia he rules. Ukraine has not been able to recover economically since independence because – democracy or not – selfish oligarchs were in charge. The pipeline network dates from the years of the Soviet Union and has not been properly maintained since then. The Russian natural gas, which flows through Ukrainian pipelines to Europe, has to pass numerous compressor stations, some of which may no longer be completely leak-proof, so that methane gas could escape into the environment. The gas that is to run through Nord Stream 2 would pass fewer and more modern compressor stations on the way from the Russian coast to Western Europe.
For years, Ukraine has not been getting its gas directly from Russia, but via return flow from Western Europe. Anyone who claims that Nord Stream 2 should not be built because Ukraine would then be at the mercy of Russia is wrong. If Nord Stream 2 is used, Ukraine will lose transit fees, but this could be offset with help from the EU (the EU is already giving a lot of money to promote the democratization of the country). During the Soviet Union, gigantic gas storage facilities were set up in the Ukraine; they surpass everything else that can be found anywhere else in Europe. These storage tanks are necessary because there are always times, in summer for example, when less gas is used than usual. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, recently took part in a zoom discussion. Then he said something astonishing: Ukraine could come to terms with the completion of Nord Stream 2, but would then then become the number one hydrogen supplier in the EU. Hydrogen is the energy source of the future. How this can be used to replace oil and gas is not yet entirely clear; research is ongoing.
France’s Secretary of State for Europe Clément Beaune said a few days ago that work on Nord Stream 2 should cease. That was cheap. France is still running its numerous nuclear power plants at the moment; it imports fracked gas. France needs little natural gas from Russia. With the new administration in the USA, they want to be on good terms. One can put the “Franco-German friendship” aside for once. Beaune doesn’t have to worry about the French company Engi, which has a stake in Nord Stream 2: Engi’s investments are very broad.
Germany would also like to have good relations with the USA. Therefore new ports are planned where the fracked gas from the USA can be landed; The first thing that will be ready is a port in Brunsbüttel in northern Germany. The construction itself is superfluous: fracked gas is at the expense of the environment. And now there are already 36 terminals in Europe where fracked gas can be brought; and all of them are underutilized.
Germany is in a special position. 40 percent of the Russian gas that flows into the EU is used in Germany. Germany also obtains gas from Norway, 20 to 30 percent of its consumption. But production in Norway will end. If Poland gets its gas from Norway, there will be less waste for Germany. The Netherlands, from which Germany also purchases gas, will stop production in the North Sea quite abruptly. Seismic upheavals are looming, which the flat country cannot afford.
Germany’s special position also consists in having to take note of all the concerns of all countries. If Poland imports the largest part of the quota of Norwegian natural gas previously intended for Germany, this is to be accepted. Until hydrogen technology is fully developed, Germany has to heat with oil, a little nuclear power, a little coal and, of course, natural gas. And most of the natural gas comes from Russia. Even if Putin is criticized for a criminal, he is in line with his Soviet predecessors: Treaties with Germany are being kept.
What few have noticed: If the West is somehow interested in Russia not turning completely economically to China and that human rights are respected there, Nord Stream 2 must be completed. Gazprom has invested billions to build the pipeline from Siberia. Andreas Metz, who works for the Eastern Committee of German Business, said: “This makes Russia more dependent on the EU, because this pipeline cannot even be reversed towards China.” The Eastern Committee stated in a public letter : “The fewer overlapping interests Russia has with the EU, the less European influence there will be.”
Assuming Nord Stream 2 would not be completed, we would have to do with an industrial ruin that would not even be suitable for a museum because all the pipes are laid underground. Since the USA is still opinion-forming and a guarantor of security for the Western world, the American political analyst Nikos Tsafos should finally be quoted once again: “There is the impression – in Washington, in Berlin, in Brussels – that sanctions (against Russia) are just the Hide the lack of a strategy how the US should deal with Russia. “
We need not assume that Tsafos’ recommendation will be taken up. But we should hope that Nord Stream 2 will be finished.