By Tunç Akkoç
The US and Germany have come to an agreement on the Nord Stream project, which had caused tensions and evolved to an issue of biggest bilateral crisis between the two countries during a long time. Representatives of both governments have announced to have achieved an agreement. Some details of the agreement are becoming already public. US sanctions that were targeting the Nord Stream 2 project and involved companies will disappear from the agenda. Currently, 98% of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is finished and it is expected to start operations within this year.
Angela Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany for the last 16 years, and in the last week, she has paid her last official visit to Washington. It is reported that agreement was achieved during that visit. Thanks to the agreement, Merkel will have finalized the project, which she started and continued in spite of all criticism and resistance, before leaving the Chancellor’s position in two months. Germany will elect a new parliament, which then elects the Chancellor, in September, where Merkel retires from active politics.
The German foreign minister Heiko Maas also expressed his content with the agreement via twitter: “I am relieved that we have found a constructive solution with the United States for the issue of Nord Stream 2.”
The US was forced to agree – but still has preconditions
Let us remember! Only some months ago, at the beginning of March, the US State Department was sounding very much different, almost threatening companies. “Every company that takes part in the project will be targeted by US sanctions. They need to stop their acitivities immediately.” In his first meeting with his German counterpart in Brussels, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was stating that the Nord Stream project aimed to divide Europe and weaken the continent’s energy security.
But the US has not been able to continue this policy due to Germany’s decided stance. If the US had insisted more on its opposition to Nord Stream 2, then more and further damage could have been caused in its relations to Germany. Accordingly, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland also expressed that US President Biden has given in into the agreement unwillingly: “President Biden still considers the Nord Stream 2 as a bad agreement that increases Europe’s dependency on Russian energy. This is a bad situation and a bad pipeline.”
Though acceding to the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the US administration has still presented some conditions, which were attached to the agreement with Germany. These conditions indicate that Washington will also in future try to block the pipeline’s operations when there is a chance. The first of these conditions has a more undetermined character. According to this one, sanctions will be put in effect whenever Russia tries to use energy issues, i.e. the pipeline as a weapon for political purposes. In such a case, Germany will take countermeasures against Russia and work in order to organize a European Union wide reaction.
Another, more concrete article concern the Ukraine. Ukraine has already been one of the most important items in the discussion about the Nord Stream 2 project till today, because between 40 and 50% of the Russian gas delivered to Europe was transiting through this country. With the operationalization of Nord Stream 2, Ukraine is left out of the gas transfer route, losing its position as a transit country. This situation leads to important economic losses for Ukraine, estimated at 2 billion US dollars annually. Additionally, the transfer of Russian gas via Ukraine had provided the Kiev existential securities in political relations with Moscow. The recent US-German agreement includes some measures that try to keep this insurance for Ukraine.
In that context, the US and Germany have pledged to establish a fund of 1 billion dollars that shall serve to diversify Ukraine’s energy sources. In a first step, Germany will provide a grant of 175 million US dollars.
The leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dealt with this point in its headline, commenting “Germany gets freedom by paying for it”.
Furthermore, the US-German agreement foresees that besides of Nord Stream 2, Russian gas will also in future continue to be transported via Ukraine. The agreement proposes to extend the current Russian-Ukrainian transit contract, due to expire in 2024, for 10 years. The German Chancellor Merkel confirmed this in her press conference today, stating that Ukraine needs to keep on being a transit country.
Nord Stream supporters content, adversaries unhappy
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline arrives in Germany in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The state’s president Manuela Schleswig has welcomed the US-German agreement: “The pipeline construction needs to be finished, therefore, this agreement is positive. Nord Stream 2 is important in both terms, satisfying Germany’s energy needs and providing employment in the state o Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.”
The German minister of economy, Peter Altmaier also expressed content about the completion of the agreement: “I happy that the transatlantic relations are progressing again on a positive path.”
In her press conference today, the Chancellor Merkel commented the agreement with the following words: “This is a good agreement, but it does not solve all differences.”
Meanwhile, it was reported that Merkel had a phone call with Russian president Putin, where the sides discussed the Nord Stream 2 project too. The Kremlin made a declaration concerning the call, according to which the Russian president Putin had acknowledged Germany’s efforts in favor of Nord Stream 2.
On the other side, opponents of Nord Stream 2 have criticized the US-German agreement. The office of the Ukrainian president Wolodymyr Zelensky made a declaration full of reproach: “A decision on Nord Stream 2 cannot be taken behind the back of those directly threatened by this project. This problem can only be solved in the meeting with Biden and Zelensky.”
The Ukrainian foreign minister Dimitri Kuleba and his Polish counterpart, Zbigniew Rau commented on the agreement with a joint declaration: This decision has created political, military and energy threat for Ukraine and Central Europe. We call on the United States and Germany to adequately address the security crisis in our region. Unfortunately, the hitherto proposals to cover the resulting security deficit cannot be considered sufficient to effectively limit the threats created by NS2.
The spokesperson of the Polish government, Piotr Mueller spoke more frankly in his meeting with press members in Warsaw: “Chancellor Merkel and president Putin have the potential destabilization of Central and East Europe in their minds. The decision of the US, which has for a long time opposed and resisted the Nord Stream 2 project, to give in now has unfortunately surprised us. The US’ permission to complete the pipeline construction is a bad decision for our region.”
In Germany meanwhile the party of the Greens was among the first to issue a statement. The party’s deputy group leader in parliament, Oliver Krischer, and its spokesperson for Eastern European affairs, Manuel Sarrazin made a joint written statement: “The agreement on the Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal as far as climate protection and Ukraine’s security is concerned. The winner of this agreement is Putin.”
As known, the Greens oppose the completion of the Nord Stream 2 project institutionally and categorically.
Now, a new challenge awaits president Biden in the US congress, because the agreement will be discussed there too. Both Democrat and Republican senators are expected to fiercely criticize the agreement, and according voices have already started to speak. The republican senator Ted Cruz evaluated the agreement as fatal and claimed that Biden had surrendered to Putin.