The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is weeks away from being operational after the United States and Germany gave their approval light to move forward, but the agreement is spurring mixed reaction from European allies who are weighing their economies against national security concerns.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hailing the deal as a success for her country and the rest of the continent, maintaining that the ability to impose sanctions on Russia if it uses the pipeline for nefarious means is an adequate safeguard. During a press conference on Thursday, Merkel admitted both sides had to make sacrifices and, even then, it’s not a perfect solution.
“[The deal] is a good step that also required a willingness to compromise on both sides,” she said to a room full of reporters. “On the other hand, it does not overcome all the divergences that existed the day before.”
Despite Merkel’s optimism, the announcement from the U.S. and Germany was met with a harsh rebuke from Poland and Ukraine, who issued their own joint statement taking issue with the outcome and their exclusion from the negotiations.
The pipeline runs underneath the Baltic Sea, bypassing the two countries and avoiding the disbursement of any transit fees. This, coupled with Russia’s increased influence on the continent, raises concerns for the countries on the front lines of the Kremlin’s economic and geographic encroachment.
“This decision has created a political, military and energy threat for Ukraine and Central Europe, while increasing Russia's potential to destabilize the security situation in Europe, perpetuating divisions among NATO and European Union member states,” Poland and Ukraine said in a joint statement. “We call on the United States and Germany to adequately address the security crisis in our region, that Russia is the only beneficiary to.”
For Ukraine, the pipeline represents something much larger than Europe’s energy dependence on Russian energy. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline began just months after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Ukraine’s concern goes beyond Kremlin influence and into physical occupation of land.
Nonetheless, Berlin and Moscow are pleased to be moving forward with the pipeline. Leaders from the two countries spoke on the phone on Wednesday and expressed their satisfaction with the project’s progress.
But, that’s not to say Russia is completely satisfied with the way the agreement between the U.S. and Germany was characterized on Wednesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to allegations that the pipeline would only be used to increase the country’s influence on the continent saying, “Russia has always been and remains a responsible guarantor of energy security on the European continent, or I would even say on a wider, global scale.”
For many countries in Europe, and around the globe, that’s the problem. Russia’s energy expansion is only one part of the equation as it also eliminates the involvement of gas transit countries such as Poland and Ukraine.
Peskov maintains, however, that Russia is open to a dialogue with Ukraine when it comes to extending a deal. This was a sticking point for Merkel who assured Ukraine that Europe would continue to fight for its interests, even after she steps down from power later this year. That means it’ll be up to other European countries – and the United States – to uphold any agreement.
Seemingly in preparation for the backlash, the White House almost simultaneously announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would be visiting Washington next month.
In a statement, the Biden administration claims it’ll be an opportunity to affirm the United States' “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security, and our backing for President Zelensky’s efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values."
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