BRATISLAVA – In the right circumstances, we can all be gullible fools – which will be the case if the European Union welcomes the Nord Stream 2 project to double the delivery of natural gas from Russia via the Baltic Sea to Germany. According to the five European companies involved in the project (each with a 10% stake), their partnership with Russia’s Gazprom (which owns the remaining 50%) is simply a commercial business initiative. In fact, it is much more – dangerously more – than that.
A decade ago, when the first Nord Stream pipeline deal was announced, Poland’s then-foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, compared the venture to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (the non-aggression treaty between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union). As the EU signed off on the deal, Sikorski was accused of grotesque hyperbole.
Today, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and ongoing subversion of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Sikorski’s words don’t seem so outlandish. Indeed, Gazprom today is even more of a tool of Kremlin policy (and source of revenue), with its gas deliveries repeatedly used for political extortion, particularly to keep ex-Soviet republics like Ukraine in line.
The argument for Nord Stream 2 is that it will meet the EU’s growing demand for gas. Yet the capacity of existing pipelines between the EU and Russia is already more than double Europe’s current demand. According to Gazprom’s own data, Russia in 2015 exported slightly more than 100 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to Western Europe – far below half of existing capacity.