If Covid-19 has taught EU member states anything it should be that there is enormous value in European integration in crucial areas. The ECB’s monetary supports have strongly assisted in averting certain economic catastrophe stimulated by Covid restrictions and allowed EU nations to provide concrete supports to flailing businesses and unemployed citizens. After a slow start, the European vaccine programme is now quickly becoming a triumph.
However, this united front is all too often absent from Europe’s approach to foreign policy matters of concern. There is no better example of the need for an integrated approach to European foreign policy than Germany and Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
The €9.5 billion project is not simply a lucrative export mechanism for Russian gas, it is also a major geopolitical victory for the Kremlin on several fronts. It has everything to do with Ukrainian territory and European energy independence. Ukraine has always been a crucial mechanism for exporting Russian gas into the European market.
The 2009 Russia-Ukraine gas pricing dispute resulted in Russia cutting off all Russian gas supplies from Ukraine for 13 days, this by extension cut off gas supplies to south-eastern Europe in the middle of winter. This was a result of Russian state gas company, Gazprom, demanding that Ukrainian gas company, Naftogaz, pay off existing debts from previous Gazprom contracts.
The 2009 incident made it abundantly clear that Russia has the capability to cripple dependent European energy supplies if desired, especially with Nord Stream 2 dramatically increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. This is completely at odds with the events of the last decade which have shown Russia to be a rogue actor in the European sphere of influence. It is clear that this project is a major threat to the security of The European Union.
The 2014 annexation of Crimea and subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine have shown that Russia does not play by the rules. This leaves one other critical party at peril following the completion of Nord Stream 2; Ukrainian territorial sovereignty.
Ukraine has always been a crucial middleman between the Russian gas producers and European consumers. It has meant that Russia has historically required a degree of stability in Ukraine to ensure the safe transit and sale of its valuable natural resource. Before the construction of Nord Stream 1, two-thirds of Russia’s gas flowed through Ukrainian pipelines into the European market. By 2019, following the construction of Nord Stream 1, Ukraine was now only transiting around 40% of Russian gas into Europe. It is certain that this figure will again fall dramatically when Nord Stream 2 becomes fully operational in t coming months and years.
Once that happens, what incentive does Putin have to shy away from farther land grabs in Ukraine? Ukraine has always been a thorn in Moscow’s perceived sphere of influence, especially following the election of pro-western President Volodymyr Zelensky. Kiev is juggling with the idea of applying for EU membership in 2023. In Vladimir Putin’s eyes, this would represent the instatement of a hostile power directly on his own border.
There is every incentive for Putin to farther destabilise Ukraine before this becomes his painful reality. Unless Europe and The United States can credibly pledge to protect Ukrainian sovereignty against all acts of aggression without reservation. So far, the Biden administration has taken a keen interest in ensuring the security of Ukraine through military and diplomatic aid, but this enthusiasm has not been matched in Europe.
Ultimately, Germany should never have approved this project without major consultation with all EU member states. The international security risks of voluntarily ceding energy independence to a hostile militaristic state are self-evident. Especially when it puts in peril the future of a potential future EU member state.
The most objective point of opposition is best summarised by Vladimir Milov, advisor to Russian opposition leader Alex Navalny;
From a geopolitical perspective it will not be a good thing if Putin completes this pipeline – he will receive a very clear advantage and it will be a symbol that notwithstanding all the bad things he’s done and doing right now, there are still people in Europe, very influential in politics and business, ready to play his game– Vladimir Milov
European Union foreign policy needs to find its strength and principle or Europe is destined to be subject to the desires of larger hostile powers throughout the 21st century. It is clear that free trade at all costs is not a winning strategy in a world bearing witness to a staggering shift away from liberal-democracy to autocratic illiberal rule. Nations like Russia, China and Turkey will continue to make a mockery of a rules-based international order until we offer a military, economic and diplomatic disincentive.