The Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline leading from Russia directly to Germany is the focus of the new cold war between the USA and Russia. A balanced and purely objective discussion about the pros and cons of this pipeline is almost impossible. The US and European disruptive manoeuvres against the pipeline construction are manifold. In recent years, there have been repeated delays in the construction of the pipeline. Now things are on the move again.
On 15 January 2021, the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) granted permission for Nord Stream 2 to continue construction in the German section. The renewed approval had become necessary because the Swiss company Allseas had withdrawn its special vessels for pipeline construction at the end of 2019 following threats of sanctions by the US and a Russian vessel with a different technology, which has now been approved, had to be requested. The Russian laying vessel “Fortuna” is now in the Baltic Sea. Only 150 kilometres of the double line (2 times 75 kilometres) – out of a total length of more than 2,448 (2 times 1,224) kilometres – remain to be laid.
Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
As early as 7 January 2021, the state parliament of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had decided to establish a Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection MV with the votes of the ruling SPD and CDU as well as the opposition party Die Linke. The other opposition party, the AfD, abstained from voting. The purpose of the state foundation is not only to promote climate and environmental protection in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but it will also be able to support the construction of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline. This, too, had been said publicly by those responsible from the outset. The state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is contributing 200,000 euros to the foundation’s assets, and Nord Stream 2 AG, based in Zug, Switzerland1, has agreed to provide 20 million euros for the foundation’s assets – which is welcomed by the state government. “I am very pleased that we have won Nord Stream 2 AG as a partner for this project,” said the state’s Minister for Energy, Infrastructure and Digitalisation, Christian Pegel of the SPD.2 The foundation’s three-member board comprises the state’s former minister-president, Erwin Sellering (SPD), former MEP Werner Kuhn (CDU) and entrepreneur Katja Enderlein.
Supporting to build Nord Stream 2
The openly stated intention to use the foundation to support the construction of Nord Stream 2 is a reaction by the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern to the continuing intensification of sanction threats by the US government and the US Congress against all companies directly or indirectly involved in the construction of the pipeline. On 7 January, Zeit online quoted the state’s minister-president, Manuela Schwesig of the SPD, as saying: “We have no plans for this foundation to build or operate the pipeline.” She said there was only the possibility of contributing to its completion. “Whether this possibility is needed or used depends on whether the US continues to rely on sanctions against German and European companies.” According to the statutes, the foundation would have the right, for example, to buy components and machines that are essential for the completion of the gas pipeline. Thus, the companies supplying these things to the foundation would no longer be threatened by US sanctions. And since the foundation is a state-owned entity, no sanctions would be possible against it under the current legal situation in the USA: state agencies are still explicitly exempt from these US sanction threats.
An interview with Manuela Schwesig
In an interview with Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) on 14 January 20213, the Minister President of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern commented in detail on the foundation project, but also on the broader political issues.
At the beginning, Manuela Schwesig is asked whether the small state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania wants to cheat the big USA and circumvent the sanctions against Nord Stream 2 with a foundation. She replied: “We are reacting to the fact that the Americans are threatening with sanctions a pipeline that has been approved by the rule of law and is almost completed in order to improve the market opportunities for their own fracking gas. I find that outrageous and I’m annoyed that all the critics of the foundation don’t say a word about where they stand on US sanctions against German companies.”
She counters the accusation that the new foundation only superficially has something to do with climate and environmental protection and is a sham: “The accusation doesn’t hold water. We have made everything very transparent, and the parliament in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern decided to establish the foundation with a very broad majority. The new foundation will do many good things for environmental protection in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania over the years. It will neither build nor operate the pipeline. But it can help with the construction of the pipeline if that becomes necessary because of the American sanctions. We have made that completely transparent as well. By the way, two nature conservation foundations have already been established as part of the construction of the first Nord Stream pipeline. Nord Stream paid money into both and well-known environmental organisations are represented in both. Why should what then was right be wrong today? [...] Whether the new foundation will have to contribute to the pipeline construction remains to be seen. That depends on how the US proceeds. But the foundation will certainly contribute to environmental protection. Nord Stream will definitely provide the money for nature and climate protection projects throughout Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.”
She is then asked if she sees no problem in mixing climate protection with the completion of a pipeline for the transport of natural gas. Her reply: “No, because I firmly believe that natural gas is an important building block for the energy transition. Germany is phasing out nuclear power next year and coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest. We need gas as a bridge energy source, at least for a transitional period, because we do not yet have enough wind and solar power available and the storage technologies still need to be further developed. A successful energy transition that works ecologically and economically is the best climate protection.”
“Friendly countries cannot and must not treat each other like this”.
Asked about her expectations on the German government, she replies: “We demand a withdrawal of the sanctions against our companies. And I expect the German government to make this point clear in its first talks with the new US administration. Regardless of whether one thinks the pipeline is right or not. “Friendly countries cannot and must not treat each other like this”.
At the end of the interview, Manuela Schwesig is asked about the fact that she is being put in the same category as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. In response, she says: “These attacks show that many people are not concerned about objective criticism of an infrastructure project, but about reservations against Russia. If the pipeline did not come from Russia but from Scandinavia, there would be much less criticism. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, 80 percent of the people want good relations with Russia; there has been a close partnership with the Leningrad region for years. We are committed to the German-Russian cooperation. That doesn’t mean we are uncritical, but criticism and dialogue belong together”.
* * *
While the problems of humanity demand cooperation between all states and peoples, the reality is different. This reality includes the Western “enemy image of Russia”.4 This enemy image is concrete and tangible almost every day. Or what else is it good for when, for example, on the evening of Sunday, 17 January 2021, first “news” on the ARD’s “Tagesschau” (a news programme) at 8 p.m. – once a flagship of German news broadcasts – “reports” in a completely one-sided way on the return of Alexei Nawalny to Russia and his arrest there, and this plot runs through all news broadcasts as if it was brought into line?
The Greens in the frontline against Nord Stream 2
The fight against Nord Stream 2 is also part of this. It is interesting to see who is on the US side of the frontline. At the very front in Germany are politicians from the party Alliance 90/The Greens such as Katrin Göring-Eckardt (leader of the party’s parliamentary group in the German Bundestag) and Annalena Baerbock. Ms Baerbock, one of the two party leaders, was quoted in detail by the German newspaper “Bild” (“Baerbock to Nord Stream 2: The GroKo makes itself a stooge of the Kremlin project“5) and also by the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (“Baerbock demands a stop of the foundation for Nord Stream 2”6). The party’s other leader, Robert Habeck, even addressed the new CDU leader Armin Laschet: “Mr Laschet must correct the position of his party, the CDU, and must position himself clearly against Nord Stream 2.“7 “Fridays for Future” has demonstrated against the new foundation in several cities in eastern Germany.8 Large German “environmental” associations such as BUND (German Federation for Environment and Nature Conservation), the “Deutsche Umwelthilfe” (the German environment aid), the “Naturschutzbund Deutschland” (NABU) (The German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union) or WWF-Germany want to prevent Nord Stream 2 and on 18 January stopped further construction for now with an objection procedure against the building permit by the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH).
To the delight of the US
The responsible people in US will be delighted about this. As early as 20 November 2020, the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND)9 reported: “USA increases pressure on Nord Stream 2 companies. The US government sees the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea in the final metres before its demise and is increasing the sanctions pressure on European companies involved. ‘This pipeline is not happening’ a senior US government official told the dpa news agency in Washington. ‘This is what a dying pipeline looks like.’” The basis of the US sanctions is a law passed by the US Congress in December 2019 with the meaningful title “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act” (PEESA), and the US government officially justifies its rejection of Nord Stream 2 with “too great a dependence of European partners on Russian gas”.
So what does the US care about European energy security and Europe’s (supposed) dependencies? The European colonial masters used to talk like the US officials today.
The same article also says: “As part of the Defence Budget Act (NDAA) package 2021, a law is expected to be passed to tighten sanctions.” And then you can read: “Biden is also critical about the [...] pipeline project. In his previous role as US Vice President under Barack Obama, Biden had called the pipeline ‘a fundamentally bad deal for Europe’.”
One day before the transfer of power, the old US administration decided on sanctions against the Russian company KVT-RUS and declared the transfer ship “Fortuna” to be “blocked property” – whatever that means in concrete terms. Officially, the US justification was that the pipeline would allow Russia to “use natural resources as a tool for political pressure and malign influence against Western Europe”.10 [emphasis added by author]. And the designated new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken now also wants to use “every convincing instrument” to prevent Nord Stream 2.11
Is this the new “partner” and “friend” of Europe that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke of in her eulogy of 20 January?12
However, there have also been repeated protests against the US-American presumptions by responsible persons from Germany and Europe. The fact that the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is now taking concrete action is an important and courageous step. •
1 The Russian company Gazprom is holding 100 % of the shares. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is the chairman of the board of directors. The European companies E.ON (now Uniper), Wintershall, Royal Dutch Shell, OMV and Engie are contributing to the investment costs.
2 https://www.regierung-mv.de/Aktuell/?id=166889&processor=processor.sa.pressemitteilung of 6 January 2021
4 Still very much worth reading on this topic is the book by Hannes Hofbauer published in 2016: Feindbild Russland. Geschichte einer Dämonisierung (Enemy Image Russia. History of a Demonisation), Promedia-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-85371-401-0
5 https://www.bild.de/politik/inland/politik-inland/baerbock-zu-nord-stream-2-groko-macht-sichzum-handlanger-des-kreml-projekts-74890478. bild.html of 14 January 2021
6 https://www.faz.net/agenturmeldungen/dpa/ baerbock-fordert-stopp-von-stiftung-fuer-nordstream-2-17143748.html of 13 January 2021
7 https://www.focus.de/finanzen/boerse/ostsee-pipeline-moskau-will-fertigstellung-gazprom-schliesstscheitern-nicht-aus_id_12858693.html of 20 January 2021
8 https://www.nau.ch/news/wirtschaft/fridaysfor-future-demonstriert-in-mehreren-stadten-gegen-stiftung-fur-nord-stream-2-65850625 of 12 January 2021
9 https://www.rnd.de/politik/nord-stream-2-usa-erhohen-druck-auf-firmen-und-personen-RG6LIRN33JMRUYXSSPQJ56L3PM.html of 21 November 2020
10 https://www.zeit.de/wirtschaft/2021-01/nord-stream-2-russland-usa-sanktionen-gas-pipeline of 19 January 2021
11https://www.focus.de/finanzen/boerse/ostsee-pipeline-moskau-will-fertigstellung-gazprom-schliesst-scheitern-nicht-aus_id_12858693.html of 20 January 2021
12 The German magazine “Stern” (https://www.stern.de/news/von-der-leyen--mit-biden-hat-eu-wieder-einen-freund-im-weissen-haus-30007508.html) quoted Ms von der Leyen on 20 January 2021 as follows: “‘After four long years, Europe will once again have a friend in the White House,’ von der Leyen told the EU Parliament on Wednesday. The whole world had been waiting to welcome the USA back into the circle of like-minded states. ‘This day brings the US back,’ von der Leyen continued. ‘Europe is ready to reconnect with its old and trusted partner to bring new life into our cherished alliance.’”
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