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US: Nord Stream 2 'a terrible mistake'

Carla Bleiker Washington
June 23, 2019

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will run straight through the Baltic Sea, delivering Russian natural gas directly to Germany. For once, Democrats and Republicans in the US agree on something: The project is a really bad idea.

Workers construct the Nord Stream 2 pipeline
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Wüstneck

These days, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would likely rather not hear the words Nord Stream 2. The pipeline project, originally seen by Berlin as an energy infrastructure project, has recently become a contentious foreign policy issue.

Ukraine is opposed to the Baltic Sea project because it will rob Kyiv of much-needed transit income. Moreover, by losing its monopoly on transit, Kyiv fears it will also lose guarantees of protection in the face of Russian aggression. EU partners like Denmark and France are also skeptical of the plan.

Things look no better on the other side of the Atlantic. Quite the opposite in fact — US politicians are strictly opposed to the project. The loudest criticism so far has come from President Donald Trump himself, who says Germany is making itself "hostage to Russia." His diplomats have been no less critical.

In a guest commentary piece for DW, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell wrote that Germany and Europe were making themselves dependent on Russia.

"European Union reliance on Russian gas presents risks for Europe and the West as a whole and makes us all less secure. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will heighten Europe's susceptibility to Russia's energy blackmail tactics," wrote Grenell, along with the US ambassadors to Denmark and the EU.

Most Americans 'have no idea' about Nord Stream 2

Though some politicians have uttered strong words, most US citizens have never heard of the Baltic pipeline. In Washington, DW spoke with 13 journalists — people who are usually well informed about developments in international politics — and yet Nord Stream 2 did not ring any bells with most of them.

Bridget Reed Morawski has written about the project, but says most people she knows are clueless about it.

"Most of my friends here in DC have no idea what Nord Stream 2 is," said Morawski, who writes about energy for SmartBrief. "And honestly, my DC friends tend to be more plugged in on these matters than my friends from elsewhere in the country."

Though the average citizen has never heard of Nord Stream 2, the project has nevertheless done something highly unusual: it has created consensus among Republican and Democratic lawmakers. "US citizens might not be up to date on European energy security, but there is bipartisan agreement among politicians and experts," says Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and author of the book The New Geopolitics of Natural Gas.

Germany needs more Russian gas

Germany 'putting its head in a noose'

Neither Republican nor Democratic lawmakers are shy about voicing their opinion on the proposed project. "Putin's pipeline is a trap," Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso told the energy and environment website E&E News in May, adding: "Germany seems to be willing to put its head in the noose. I think it's a terrible mistake."

Recently, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire joined forces with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to put forth a bill that would sanction companies involved in building the pipeline. Shaheen claims Russia is looking to use cheap gas as a way to monopolize the European energy market, threatening stability in the region. She says the US cannot simply look the other way "while the Kremlin builds this Trojan horse."

Grigas also has concerns about the project. "Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe and for Germany. It would strengthen Russia's political influence in Germany and allow the flow of corruption into Europe," she said.

Grigas added that Germany's efforts to bring about peace in Ukraine, while at the same time putting cash in Kremlin coffers with Nord Stream 2, is a paradox. She said Germany must wake up to the fact that there are "more gas exporters" on the market today, and that Berlin doesn't have to make itself dependent upon Russia to cover its energy needs.

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