by Alexandra Reinhild Berndt
The poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Nawalny reopened the debate about the European stance towards Russia. In March 2018, the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was poisoned with the same toxin as Nawalny was in the English city Salisbury (Ehl, 2019). The European Parliament condemned Russia’s behavior and called for immediate sanctions against the Russian government (Zeit Online, 2020). In a resolution of the European parliament, 532 MEPs voted in favor of stricter sanctions against Russia (Zeit Online, 2020). In Germany, the debate shifted the focus to “Nord Stream 2”, a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany that is 94% complete (only 160 kilometers out of 2460 kilometers are left to lay) (Prantner, 2020). A possible stop of the gas pipeline construction is not only discussed by German politicians, but also by European and US-American actors (Ballin, 2020). In the following, I will investigate the arguments of the opponents and proponents of the project and the implications of a possible stop of construction.
First of all, I will examine which actors are involved in the discussion and shed a light on their motivation and interest. I will start with the opponents of Nord-Stream 2 and then continue with its proponents. In the case of the US, economic interests are the motivation for the imposition of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 (Ballin, 2020). As the United States aim at selling their own gas to Europe, they exhaust all possibilities to stop the construction of Nord Stream 2 (Ballin, 2020). In contrast to the United States, Eastern European countries as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland fight for a construction stop not because of economic reasons, but because of political concerns (Ballin, 2020). The Prime Minister of Latvia, Krisjanis Karins, urged Germany to be aware of the fact that Russia uses the “gas-dependency of Europe as political weapon” – according to Karins, the pipeline contradicts European values (Matthaei, 2020). The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, reacted similarly. He also warned against a German dependence on Russian gas and against a higher degree of Russian influence on German policy (Handelsblatt, 2020).
In Germany, the opinion on Nord Stream 2 varies among parties and politicians. The Green party pleads for sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and aims at classifying it as “security risk for Europe” (Ballin, 2020). Similarly, the liberal party FDP precludes economic cooperation with Russia in the light of Nawalny’s poisoning (Ballin, 2020). The German government, however, is divided on the issue. German chancellor Angela Merkel pleads for a “European solution” (Von Marschall, 2020). The vice chancellor Olaf Scholz, however, is against a stop of Nord Stream 2 (Schmitz, 2020). He argues that Nord Stream 2 is not a governmental project, but a “private sector energy project” that would, in case of a stop, harm a lot of companies (Schmitz, 2020). Not only German companies are involved in the project; European and international companies participated in the construction of the pipeline as well (Lenz, 2020). There are five European companies that invested in the project: Uniper, Wintershall DEA, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV and Engie (Becker, 2020). Each of them pays ten percent of the costs for the pipeline. In case of a politically initiated construction stop, it is probable that they would demand back their invested money (Becker, 2020). The German government is thus, in contrast to the other European countries, very divided on this issue.
After having examined the point of views of all the actors involved in the discussion about which sanctions against Russia are most appropriate, I would like to carry out a final review on positive as well as negative aspects. An important aspect speaking against the stop of the pipeline construction is that the pipeline would guarantee a “low-cost supply of gas” and help Germany to “move away from nuclear and coal” (Shiryaevskaya & Khrennikova, 2020). However, the German “security of supply” is not dependent on the gas of Nord Stream 2 (Becker, 2020). Furthermore, Gasprom’s profits are Russia’s profits as Gasprom is a state-owned company (Schuller, 2020). There is thus the possibility that the financial profits of Nord Stream 2 also flow into Russia’s military actions in Libya, Syria and Ukraine (Schuller, 2020). It thus also raises the question whether the German government would like to accept a huge economic cooperation with a government responsible for attempted murder by poisoning and questionable military actions in Libya, Syria and Ukraine.
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