As Ukraine is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union, Angela Merkel, on her final visit to Ukraine, underlined Germany’s commitment not to allow Russia use Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a “weapon”. Just two days earlier, Merkel, before retiring as chancellor next month, met Russian President Vladimir Putin and discussed the nearly finished Nord Stream 2 among other things. Putin emphasized that the new pipeline provides a far more cost-effective and secure gas transit route to Germany and other EU countries, and Merkel urged for the renewal of transit contract to pump gas via Ukraine. The Nord Stream 2 project; however, has enraged the US and several European countries, but Biden and Merkel declared last month that they had reached an agreement to allow it to be completed.
For the last 12 years, during both Obama and Trump administrations, there has been a strong bipartisan opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an unequivocal response to Russians’ invasion of Crimea and their exploitation of energy supplies as a tool of coercion and intimidation in Eastern Europe. The Biden administration’s recent decision to reverse its predecessors’ policies and refrain from punishing pipeline participants is not in the United States’ national interest.
First, surrendering to German pressure on Nord Stream 2 just to revive trans-Atlantic relations is a miscalculation. The German Green party, the likely winner of the coming election, opposes the pipeline as their candidate, Annalena Baerbock, has asserted that Nord Stream 2 bears both geological and ecological dangers for Europe. Therefore, a common ground with the most likely next German leader has been blown sky-high. Also, Eastern and Central Europeans are arriving at the inevitable conclusion that Biden is ready to make compromises at the expense of their security. Recently, in a joint statement, Poland and Ukraine expressed their concerns over the repercussions of decisions made upon the pipeline without the engagement of immediately affected countries. These types of decisions by the Biden administration can embolden the pro-Russians and anti-Westerns of the eastern flank of the European Union to claim that the security promises made by Washington are unreliable. Consequently, the pro-US attitude in the former Soviet bloc nations will soften.
Second, if the Biden’s administration decision was just intended to improve bilateral ties between the United States and Germany, then what the German chancellor gave in return was seemingly not much. After the Nord Stream 2 decision, for instance, Germany did not announce any increase in its NATO defense expenditure. They haven’t even addressed the imbalance in automotive tariffs that disadvantages American automakers in favor of German imports. While many believe that Biden’s decision on the pipeline was intended to persuade Merkel to take a firm stance against China, yet Germans are not ready to remove the inherent security risks associated with Huawei’s 5G telecommunications equipment.
The fact is that China’s challenge is viewed differently by the United States and its European allies. The attraction of the Asian market has a tremendous draw on Europe. But the EU’s economic cooperation with China poses a challenge to the Biden administration’s efforts to manage China since it offers Beijing a potential outlet to circumvent US economic and diplomatic sanctions. Allowing the pipeline project to complete and run; however, sends a clear signal to Russia and China that sanctions are ineffective and will not be enforced for long.
Third, the joint statement by the United States and Germany to support Ukraine is actually a feeble attempt to explain the pipeline capitulation and makes only vague pledges that are not legally enforceable. This statement cannot and will not protect Ukraine as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances did not protect Ukraine when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. The Biden administration has given Kyiv little cause to hope for more.
Germans’ pledges of assistance to Ukraine are also unreliable as they are proud of breaking their promise in the Wales Pledge to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on their own and NATO’S defense. Also, they never reacted strongly and assertively to a Moscow-sponsored terrorist attack in a Berlin park near Bundestag or to the political repression in Russia especially in the case of Alexei Navalny.
While Joe Biden’s attempts to restore closer relationships with European allies are desirable, abandoning the Nord Stream 2 penalties and sanctions seems to be a step out of the line. Not only will this embolden the anti-westerns in the EU, but send a signal to Russia and China that sanctions will not hold for long. Also, Germany may conclude that it can do business with tyrants regardless of beliefs and without fear of repercussions from Washington.