Russia Monitor is a review of the most important events related to Russian internal and external security, as well as its foreign policies.
Date: 26 July 2021
U.S. Concessions On Nord Stream 2 Encourage Russia To Go To War
A U.S.-German deal on the Russian natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 deals a blow to the energy security of Eastern Europe, notably Ukraine, whose military security is at stake, too. As the Joe Biden administration is making new concessions to Russia while France and Germany show a Moscow-friendly attitude, Vladimir Putin feels encouraged to take further aggressive action, also militarily. At the same time, the deal offers no security guarantee to Kyiv.
It became clear as early as this spring that Washington gave up its idea to further obstruct the construction of the pipeline, mainly by imposing fresh sanctions. Biden suggested he and Putin met while the U.S. administration did not hide that Germany was its priority partner in Europe, and then the White House froze some of the sanctions it had introduced against Nord Stream 2. Behind-the-scenes talks were also reported to take place between German and U.S. officials. As details were finalized, the agreement was inked during Angela Merkel’s trip to Washington. Meanwhile, Germany and mostly the United States said neither Ukraine nor Central European countries would sustain losses if the gas pipeline were eventually completed. U.S. and German officials discussed some kind of guarantee. Right after Merkel met with Biden, it was reported that Counselor of the Department Derek Chollet would first visit Kyiv and then Warsaw. It should not be confusing that both meetings have distinct agendas as Chollet had the mission to inform Poland and Ukraine about the details of the U.S.-Germany agreement and possibly more to convince both states not to criticize the Biden-Merkel deal too strongly.
While in the White House, the German chancellor said “Germany will take action should Russia fails to respect Ukraine as a transit country and its rights.” Contrary to what was said before, the deal does not mention any sanctions against Nord Stream 2 in the event of Russian energy-related blackmail or other hostile methods. Nor is there any obligation for Germany to curb or halt gas flows via Nord Stream 2. Plans to invest in Ukraine’s energy projects pave the way to a more stable economic presence of Germany in the Eastern European country. Nonetheless, this is only the only part of the July 21 deal that shows that the main theme of the agreement was not so much Nord Stream 2 and Ukraine, but the role Germany is to play in Central and Eastern Europe, also to somewhat replace the United States in the region. One example is the Three Seas Initiative along with a clear signal from the United States that expects Germany to serve a pivotal role there. Thus Biden is no longer a patron of the initiative that emerged to counter Russian domination on the one hand and German control on the other.
Russia noted the deal with great satisfaction. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the very next day Moscow was ready to renegotiate a deal to extend the current transit agreement with Ukraine as it is set to expire by 2024. Nonetheless, this does not mean the deal will enter into force, let alone its provisions. In the July 21 agreement, Berlin has committed to use all available leverage to extend Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Moscow for up to a further 10 years, but this is nothing but a pipe dream. If Nord Stream 2 is operational, the Kremlin will hold all the aces. Worst of all, Putin will see Biden’s decision as a sign of weakness, prompting him to play more aggressively. This seems particularly true of Ukraine as most Russian troops have been stationed near its border since April. On top of that are tensions in the Black Sea and troop movements ahead of the Zapad 2021 military drills, scheduled for September this year. Putin may attack as no other situation serves as a better situation to bring Ukraine to its knees. The Kremlin knows that Western countries will fail to deliver a strong response to new aggression.
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