We now have an answer to the question of whether Germany would really pull the plug on the contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the event of Russian aggression against Ukraine: Yes, and it just did.
“The situation today is fundamentally different,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, after Russian troops began moving overnight into breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which Moscow officially recognized as independent states earlier on Monday. Although U.S. President Joe Biden had said Nord Stream 2 would be killed if Russia invaded, Scholz had previously refused to even name the Russia-to-Germany pipeline when publicly discussing responses to an invasion.
Specifically, Scholz has ordered the suspension until further notice of Nord Stream 2’s certification process. The project, which effectively doubles the capacity of an already operational Nord Stream pipeline, has been completed but cannot start operations until Germany’s energy regulator gives the go-ahead.
The agency had already suspended certification in November, owing to the failure of Nord Stream 2’s operating company to establish a German subsidiary. The Gazprom-controlled firm went on to do just that last month, but the certification remained suspended—and at the end of January, the European Commission launched a compliance review that also effectively suspended the pipeline’s operations.
Because it involves the suspension of a facility that isn’t yet in use, Germany’s latest move doesn’t amount to immediate economic pressure on Russia. However, it’s a hugely symbolic demonstration of Western unity in the face of Russian aggression, as countries scramble to respond to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine; the U.K. announced sanctions on Russian banks Tuesday afternoon, and many countries are expected to unveil their own measures later in the day.
Nord Stream 2 has long been criticized by the U.S. and many EU countries on several grounds. For one thing, it would increase reliance on Russian supplies—and Germany already gets more than half its natural gas, which is essential to its industry and domestic heating, from Russia. The pipeline has also been seen as giving the Kremlin leverage over Ukraine, a crucial route for Russia-to-Europe gas flows that earn Kyiv significant transit fees.
Matti Maasikas, the EU’s ambassador to Ukraine, said in a Tuesday tweet that Nord Stream 2 had “damaged EU-Ukrainian relations more than anything,” adding: “I will not miss you, pipeline.”
European gas futures surged 8% on Russia’s incursion onto Ukrainian territory. However, EU officials expect the continent will be able to get by even if Gazprom now turns off the tap entirely, as the coldest winter weather has likely passed, and other countries can still send liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies.
Nord Stream 2’s Swiss-established operating company (which is chaired by former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder) said in a statement that it has “taken note” of Scholz’s words, but added: “We cannot comment on this news reporting and have to wait for appropriate information from the authorities.”
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