Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- The Russian pipelaying vessel Akademic Cherskiy, brought from the Far East to finish Nord Stream 2 (NS2), has finally put to sea after a long period in the German port of Mukram. This follows immediately on the final consent given by the Danish government for the operation of the pipeline.
Ever since the Navalny affair irrupted onto the diplomatic scene the German government has been wavering between punishing Russia for allegedly poisoning the opposition figure and completing the pipeline it needs to fulfill its energy needs.
The bizarre Navalny poisoning took place at the worst possible moment for the completion of the pipeline giving the United States and its allies in Europe an opportunity to harass the German government into reneging on the project.
Now the pipelayer has put to sea after completing its refit making it suitable to handle the large pipe sizes used for NS2. At the same time the German Minister of the Economy has spoken out in defense of the project, rejecting US interference in German and European internal affairs.
The Minister told journalists that the NS2 project was designed to be of use for decades and said it was not serious to put it in question all the time for short term considerations. He said “The NS2 project unites companies from different European countries. The gas it brings will not just be for Germany but also for several EU member states.” He added that constant dithering over major long term projects risked discouraging private investors.
Another indication that Germany intends to go ahead with the project came via an interview with Armin Laschet a leading candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as German Chancellor. Talking to Politico he said “we can’t just do business with states that mirror our social model” adding, in a clear reference to the Gulf oil states, that Europe had for a long time relied on energy from states that do not follow the norms of liberal democracy. Significantly Laschet is the Prime Minster of the Nord Rhine Westphalia region, the industrial heart of Germany representing 20% of the German economy and heavily dependent on imported gas and trade with the Peoples Republic of China.
At a time when the Coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on his region and the rest of Europe, he warned against losing sight of economic reality.
It is significant that certain major actors in the NS2 project have their headquarters in his region. Equally the port of Mukram is in the parliamentary constituency of Chancellor Merkel.
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with a German daily last week that the U.S. was building a coalition aimed at preventing the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will substantially increase the flow of Russian gas into Europe.
"From the US point of view, Nord Stream 2 endangers Europe because it makes it dependent on Russian gas and endangers Ukraine - which in my opinion worries many Germans," Pompeo told German daily newspaper Bild.
The United States, including President Donald Trump, has been threatening further sanctions on the project and even on Germany over its support for the project.
The United States, several European countries including the Baltic states and Poland, as well as the European Union, have expressed concern about Russia using gas sales and its gas monopoly Gazprom as a political tool.
The United States views Nord Stream 2 as further undermining Europe's energy security by giving Gazprom another pipeline to ship its natural gas to European markets.
In July, the United States warned companies helping Russia to complete Nord Stream 2 that they should 'get out now' or face consequences, as the Trump administration steps up efforts to stop the construction of the Russian pipeline.
The US opposition is traditional and dates back to the first gas pipelines from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. However it is clear that its opposition also has a lot to do with selling its own Liquid gas to the EU as well as its long term geopolitical aim of keeping the EU and Russia from forming a block.
The gas pipeline is being built from Russia to Germany along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Due to the US sanctions introduced in December, the construction of NS2 was temporarily suspended, as the Swiss company All Seas was forced to withdraw its pipe-laying vessels from the Baltic.
At the same time, the gas pipeline is almost completed, it remains to lay 160 km of pipes.
It is often overlooked that before giving the go ahead for Nord Stream 1 Russian President Putin got a commitment from the then candidate Angela Merkel that, if elected, she would go through with the project. It is most unlikely that he did not do the same for NS2. Thus what is at stake is not only the pipeline but Germany’s credibility on the international scene as an independent country rather than an obedient US satellite. For this reason, if no other, the sailing of the Russian pipelayer indicates that the project is about to be completed.