Energy notes

Sassnitz, Washington, Brussels and Berlin: the development of controversial Nord Stream 2

Nord Stream 2: arrival site of the pipeline in Lubmin, Germany. Photo: Karla Hartmann

- Farid Karimi[1]

The Nord Stream 2 project connects Russia’s gas resources directly to EU countries (mainly Germany). This Controversial project has divided the EU member states of the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) into two camps: those in favour of the project (e.g., Germany) and those opposing it (e.g., the Baltic States and Poland). The sentiments against this project, not least in the Baltic States and Poland, arise from the security concerns due to antagonistic Russian policy towards these countries and Ukraine and other political disputes. Furthermore, there have been some concerns over adverse environmental and ecological impacts of the project[2]. The controversy surrounding the Nord Stream 2 project has increasingly taken the form of a legal dispute. Poland has been on the front line of this legal dispute. The European General Court decision initially supported Poland’s position that the principles of energy security and solidarity laid out in Article 194 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) were violated vis-à-vis this project.

Apart from the dispute between the regional countries about the Nord Stream 2, the recent United States sanctions on this project also added another dimension to the complexity of the project. Washington has justified these sanctions on companies participating in the project as an effort to loosen the Kremlin’s “economic and political grip over Europe”[3]. Although these sanctions come late when the project is almost completed, the impact of the sanctions seems significant, particularly for the private sector. Currently, US sanctions have already forced one of the main contractors, the Swiss company Allseas Group SA, to suspend its pipe-laying work[4]. After all, the US market has bigger profits for them in a long-run than this controversial project with lots of contingencies. Furthermore, Poland and the Baltic States seemingly sympathise with the US sanctions. This surprising sympathy is a sign that despite prima facie of the BSR and having relatively a shared vision for the security issues and energy transition mainly based on the EU goals, this region is not homogenous not least when it comes to challenges of the energy transition and various risk and threats perceptions vis-à-vis security architecture. The Nord Stream 2 project hinders the BSR countries from achieving common regional goals for the time being. Nonetheless, this occasion could turn into a milestone for reconsidering post-Soviet regional diplomacy process.

In the latest development and an unconventional move, on Wednesdays August 5, 2020, three US senators namely Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz sent a letter to the local port operator Faehrhafen Sassnitz GmbH at Mukran Port in Rügen island threatening the company with paralysing sanctions if they continue their collaboration with the Nord Stream 2. This letter came shortly after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a senate hearing on July 30, 2020, said: [We] "have made very clear in our conversations with those who have equipment there the expressed threat that is posed to them for continuing to work on completion of the pipeline”[5]. These sanctions that even target individuals who work at the port could have a significant adverse effect on the small local and bigger international companies in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Germany (where the pipelines arrive from Russia). Consequently, it poses a significant threat to a rather small economy of this state. In the aftermath of these recent developments, almost all political parties in Germany unequivocally and fairly unanimously call for a strong reaction to the aforementioned letter[6].

Regardless of unconventional behaviour of the current US administration towards the Nord Stream 2, once this project is complete, Germany will mostly rely on a single external supply route to meet its gas demand. In this sense, the project appears to run against the spirit of EU policy goals, which call for reduced energy dependency and increased political security. The project has contributed to high levels of perceived threats and risks among some BSR countries; it has also led countries like Poland to find greater interest-alignment with an external actor (i.e. the US) than with Germany, one of the largest regional actors.

While seemingly the US does not compromise on this project and Poland yet initiated another litigation against the German government, the question is: does the Nord Stream 2 turn into something of a chimera? To address this question, we need to wait for the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election. That said, given the notion of both Democrats and Republicans about the Nord Stream 2 is quite the same, the future of the project remains obscure with even more contingencies. For now, the dispute over security matters between the US and Germany is deepening whether about the Nord Stream 2 project or NATO affairs.


[1]  I thank Dr Alexander Drost and Dr Andris Banka for their valuable comments on the first draft of this commentary.

[2] For instance, see: ; www.diva-