During a meeting held last Monday between US President Joe Biden and Germany’s new chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington, Biden announced that he would bring an end to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the event that Russia invades its neighbor, Ukraine.

The very confident Biden stated that “If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.”

A journalist then asked Biden how the US would exactly cancel the Nord Stream 2 specifically, with him responding that “I promise you we will be able to do it.”

However, Scholz, who was previously facing stringent criticism toward his inaction or lack of an active role toward the Russian aggression in Eastern Europe, did not mention the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline and instead opted to make vague unity statements with the United States to show its camaraderie.

While it wasn’t as awkward as it sounds, Scholz was standing right next to Biden during the White House news conference, seemingly thinking about what to say next when the Nord Stream 2 issue had been brought up.

“We are acting together, we are absolutely united, and we will not taking [be taking] different steps, we will do the same steps, and they will be very, very hard to Russia, and they should understand,” said the German leader.

However, allies questioned Scholz as he seemed to be quite reluctant to support Ukraine in a military manner, likely due to the Nord Stream 2 project. Instead of weapons, his government offered to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine, which sparked outrage among the international scene, with Kyiv’s mayor, former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko stating it had left him speechless and dismissed as a joke.

“The behavior of the German government leaves me speechless. The defense ministry apparently hasn’t realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time. What kind of support will Germany send next? Pillows?” said the Ukrainian Mayor.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht stated in response to the criticism, “We are standing on Kyiv’s side. We have to do everything to de-escalate. Currently, arms deliveries would not be helpful in this respect; there is agreement on this in the German government.” Seemingly embracing the paradox that arming another country against Russian aggression is a provocation of further aggression by Russia.

What Has The Nord Stream 2 Have To Do With The Tensions?

A Map showing the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 Pipelines Across Europe (ICIS). Source: https://www.icis.com/explore/resources/news/2022/01/28/10463483/topic-page-nord-stream-2/
A map showing the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 Pipelines Across Europe (Image from ICIS)

It’s obvious why Germany is very reluctant in dragging the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project into the Ukrainian-Russian conflict. For one, the two have had strong economic ties with one another since the fall of the USSR. Perhaps more importantly, the $11 billion undersea Nord Stream 2 pipeline would deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year directly from Russia to Germany, more than 50% of Germany’s annual consumption.

Germany, being Russia’s biggest gas customer, has vehemently tried not to let the Nord Stream 2 get in the way of its alliance with the United States, as if energy security and military security are not intertwined.

It is probably a big mistake for Germany to give Russia such power over their energy supplies as energy production is of strategic importance to any industrialized nation in the West.  It is also a mistake for the U.S. to depart from a policy of energy independence and being an energy exporter for the same reason. It gives smaller energy-producing countries supplying the U.S. an outsized role in shaping U.S. domestic and foreign policy.  This was seen during the Arab oil embargos when Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries in the Middle East were able to cut off approximately 25% of U.S. crude oil supplies over our support of Israel.

Essentially, energy production is a weapon used to exert political pressure. Russia, using Nord Stream 2 controls whether Germans can light and heat their homes and fuel their economy, and can cause massive price increases for energy throughout Europe. This gives Russia enormous leverage against NATO beyond Russia’s military capabilities and would make Moscow the center of gravity when it comes to politics on the entire continent. Germany’s tepid response to Russian aggression against Ukraine is most likely a reflection of the current level of influence Russia has over events in Europe.

The U.S. was not alone among Western countries opposed to the pipeline because it would make Europe more reliant on Russia and therefore more inclined to do Russia’s bidding when it was demanded by Moscow. The objections of the U.S. however came without an ongoing commitment to assure that the U.S. would supply Europe’s needs because the environmental lobby in the U.S. actively works to prevent the exploration and use of domestic petroleum resources.  U.S Solar and wind-produced electricity cannot be exported to Europe.  The Russians need oil and gas exports to fuel their own economy as well and if the U.S. pledged to be Europe’s supplier, countries like Germany could get the Russian energy needle out of their arm with minimal withdrawal symptoms felt as shortages and high prices. It would also slow Russian economic growth and greatly reduce their political clout in Europe.

While the German leader did indicate that he was on the same page with the United States when it came to the Kremlin situation, he has also made his position on the same issue very murky with his refusal to send military aid to Ukraine.

However, both parties did agree that a diplomatic solution to the crisis is the number one priority.

“The bottom line is this: Germany and the U.S. are close friends and reliable partners, and we can count on one another,” Biden reiterated.

As for President Biden making good on the threat to end Nord Stream 2, it most likely would take the form of economic sanctions against Western European companies working on the project. These could be avoided by Russian or Chinese companies taking over the project which have no concern over U.S. sanctions imposed upon them.  President Biden could punish countries that draw natural gas from Nordstream by raising tariffs on U.S. petroleum exports to Europe but this risks the perverse incentive of making Europe even more reliant on Russian energy sources at lower prices.