Geopolitics

Nord Stream 2: A Triangular Knot For U.S., Germany And Russia

An unavoidable topic for President Joe Biden's first foreign trip is Germany's support for the massive pipeline project that Washington believes makes Europe too dependent on Moscow.

Building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Wismar, Germany
Daniel Friedrich Sturm

BERLIN — It was a first in several ways when Lufthansa flight LH 9290 from Frankfurt landed at Washington's Dulles International Airport, last Tuesday at 3.42 p.m.: For the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, several top German diplomats visited the American capital. Also, for the first time, Chancellor Angela Merkel"s foreign policy adviser Jan Hecker was ready to discuss the controversial topic of Nord Stream 2 face-to-face with leading representatives of President Joe Biden"s government.

Nord Stream 2, a system of offshore natural gas pipelines that runs from Vyborg, Russia to Greifswald, Germany, is the longest undersea pipeline in the world. Germany has long been reliant on Russia's energy supplies, but such dependence triggered U.S. concerns. The United States Senate levied a sanction last July on the Nord Stream 2 and the companies involved, but Germany was still sticking to the project.

The date of the German-American talks was anything but accidental. This week, U.S. President Biden is in Europe — his first trip abroad since taking office more than four months ago. He will meet Merkel several times: first at the G7 summit in Cornwall, UK, a few days later at the NATO summit and an EU-U.S. summit in Brussels. Despite all the smiles for the cameras, the hard topic of Nord Stream 2 is squarely on the agenda.

Berlin wants to increase the capacity for Russian natural gas supplies to Germany and speaks of an "economic project." Washington warns of Germany's growing dependence on Russia and a snub to allies in the Baltics, as well as Poles and Ukrainians.

Biden consistently opposes Nord Stream 2, and the Democratic Party is considerably more critical of the Kremlin than the Republicans are.

Though taking the same basic line as his predecessor, Biden's administration is more conciliatory with Berlin than Trump's. This was only recently apparent when his government waived sanctions against the operating company of Nord Stream 2. For example, a recent report by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Congress stated that the waiver of punitive measures against Nord Stream 2 AG in Zug, Switzerland, its German managing director Matthias Warnig and four other employees, were in the "national interest" of the U.S. Explanation: Such sanctions negatively affected "U.S. relations with Germany, the EU and other European allies and partners."

After Biden's concession, it is now Merkel's turn. Germany welcomed Biden's election victory, and even more so, Donald Trump"s defeat. In Berlin, there was sometimes a naive attitude that everything would be fine with Biden. The truth is, the new president consistently opposes Nord Stream 2, and the Democratic Party is considerably more critical of the Kremlin than the Republicans are — something Berlin may not be ready to hear.

Anti-Nord Stream 2 protest in Schwerin, Germany, on Jan. 12 — Photo: Jens Büttner/DPA/ZUMA

Germany has yet to take a single clear step towards Biden, despite the fact that the U.S. president rules with a wafer-thin majority in Congress. Even after Biden took office, Berlin gave the impression for months that they were not talking to each other. This should be different now that the pandemic can no longer serve as an excuse.

Nobody expects the U.S to suddenly give up its criticism of Nord Stream 2. The cross-party resistance is too great for that. Likewise, no one expects Merkel and her advisors to drop the pipeline project. Neither the annexation of Crimea nor the long simmering conflict on the border with Ukraine or the poisoning of Alexei Navalny have led to a rethink in the Berlin coalition. The Kremlin-critical Greens are exerting pressure, but they are still in opposition for at least four more months before the elections to choose Merkel's successor.

Merkel and company are most likely going to attempt a barter deal, which can be a face-saving solution for both Berlin and Washington. There is goodwill on both sides — a crucial difference from the times when Trump still ruled the White House and the National Security Advisor was a hawk named John Bolton.

The top priority is not the desire to change the Kremlin's actions, but the unity of the allies.

Biden's renunciation of the sanctions pushed by Trump is more than a signal to Russia, in addition to the cooling down of the relationship between Washington and Moscow. Biden will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16, following his visits to the G7, NATO and the EU. These talks are expected to be about Moscow's renewed attempt to interfere in the U.S. elections, cyberattacks, the escalation on the border with Ukraine and the conduct of Belarus. Perhaps a good time for the two presidents to also bring up Nord Stream 2.

The controversial gas pipeline may have been on Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Blinken's agenda for a long time. For Blinken, it is, in a sense, a familiar topic: His first book, based on his bachelor's thesis, is titled Ally Versus Ally: America, Europe, and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis. The book deals with the construction of a Soviet gas pipeline to the West in the 1980s — and Blinken was just 25 when it was published, back in 1987. At the time, President Ronald Reagan"s United States feared the pipeline would make Europe dependent on Moscow. France and German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt rejected this.

In his book, Blinken criticizes Reagan's policy of maximum pressure, and accuses Europeans of "wishful thinking," believing that the Kremlin can be persuaded to make positive changes with more economic relations. The future secretary of State's core thesis, however, was that U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union is less important than U.S. policy towards European allies. The top priority is not the desire to change the Kremlin's actions, but the unity of the allies. Let's hope the German diplomats have been studying Blinken's book on their recent travels.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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