The crisis surrounding Ukraine is full of nuances, ranging from the strategic interests of the United States, through Putin’s Soviet ideology to the energy involvement of the EU, which, although playing a secondary role in the clash, has much to lose if the escalation continues in the coming weeks. The Union does not have a common foreign policy, so although it seeks a certain “unity”, it is the member countries that take positions.
In this sense, perhaps the most delicate position is that of Germany, and there is a reason for this weakness: Nord Stream 2. It is the pipeline that will connect Russia with Germany and Central and Eastern Europe via the Baltic Sea for some 1,200 kilometers and, more importantly given the current situation, ‘bypassing’ Ukraine. In theory, there is a gain in speed and effectiveness.
The energy element is not only crucial in the narrow sense of Europeans – especially in the north of the EU – being able to turn on the heat, but also as an instrument of coercion. For example, if the 27 agree to impose tough sanctions on the Russian regime, Putin could turn off the gas tap and that would be a problem: more than 40% of the natural gas he regularly imports comes from Russia via the intricate network of pipelines and connectors.
In any case, Nord Stream 2 remains stalled and has become a key element in the geostrategic struggle between Russia and the United States. Biden made it clear that if Putin executes an invasion of Ukraine “there will be no more Nord Stream 2,” because Moscow also has quite a bit to lose if the project remains idle. The gas Russia doesn’t export, it doesn’t collect. And the Russian economy is no rocket ship. Germany, given the situation, is at a crossroads and has already been harshly criticized for its lukewarmness, so much so that the Ukrainian government has accused it of being “a hindrance” in trying to resolve the crisis.
Scholz, on the other hand, warns that Russia “will pay a high price” if it invades Ukraine. “We are in a very complicated situation. If there is a military threat to Ukraine, we cannot keep quiet. There are troops on the Ukrainian border and this poses a serious threat to European security and that is why it is important to act together and do together whatever is necessary,” expressed the chancellor, who did not want to mention the gas pipeline, aware that it is an extremely sensitive element.
The new chancellor, who has only been in office for a few months and is at rather low approval levels, continues with the so-called ‘Merkel doctrine’, which has consisted throughout these years in prioritizing economic and trade relations over strategic pressure vis-à-vis Putin. The eternal leader always tried to put “dialogue” with Moscow first and at times was even reluctant to approve sanctions.
It seemed that with her departure things would change, but so far they have not. The entry of the Greens into the government could have turned the tables, because the party is very critical of Russia’s drift. Also the SPD, which leads the Executive, has displayed a tougher stance towards the Kremlin, but it seems that the Ukrainian crisis has caught the new team still positioning itself and Scholz sees how Macron is overtaking him in terms of leadership. Nord Stream 2 remains at a standstill and Germany is still mired in doubts. The future will tell whether gas is the priority or not.