Since the initial laying of the pipeline in July 2018, Nord Stream 2 has been surrounded by controversy. The project would connect Russia with Germany via the Baltic Sea and provide Central Europe with 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Supporters have argued that the pipeline will create new economic opportunities for Germany, and to ease the sensitivity of Central Europe towards Russian-Ukrainian and Russian-Belarusian relations.
Ukraine and Belarus have pipelines that carry gas to Central Europe, and previous disputes between Russia and these countries have seen the Russian Federation shut down its pipelines.
This left millions of Ukrainians, Belarusians and Central Europeans without gas during the winter months of 2004, 2006 and 2009.
Finally, supporters claim that this deal could repair Europe’s relationship with Russia. But the warning signs surrounding the project were obvious.
Warnings to Germany were neglected
Before the construction of Nord Stream 2, the European Union imported 41 percent of its natural gas from Russia. A completed pipeline would increase gas exports to Europe, thus solidifying Russia’s energy monopoly on the European continent.
This would give the Russians additional influence over European nations, as Russia could control the price and flow of gas more regularly.
Ultimately, the pipeline would give Russia a direct route to the European continent. If relations deteriorate, Russia could shut down these pipelines, leaving millions of Europeans without gas.
Several American and European elected officials have warned Germany about its dealings with Russia. Politicians, as well as officials, policy experts and journalists, stressed that Nord Stream 2 would have serious consequences for Europe.
They stressed that Europe would be overly dependent on Russian gas and that this could jeopardize Europe’s economic, energy and national security.
Bob Menéndez, chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and eight European counterparts even issued a statement urging Germany to cancel the project.
But his warnings were ignored. The Biden administration chose give up additional sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the German government went ahead with the project and the physical construction of the gas pipeline was completed in September 2021.
Russia’s deflection of blame for the gas crisis
Russia then reduced its gas exports to Europe. This reduction naturally caused an increase in demand and caused a dramatic change in gasoline prices.
Several British energy providers collapsed amid the ensuing gas price crisis, and several EU countries have been quick to minimize the impact of these rising prices.
Gazprom also announced that it had reduced its gas supply from Belarus to the EU by 70 percent. Gas exports from Poland and Ukraine to Central Europe have also declined.
But while Europe blamed Gazprom for the gas crisis, the Kremlin told a different story. Vladimir Putin, in fact, has blamed Europe, stating that their policy of terminating “long-term contracts” was the problem.
Dmitry Peskov, a Putin spokesman, elaborated on this point arguing that Russia had “fulfilled … all its obligations under existing contracts.”
Finally, Russian Vice President Alexander Novak stated that if Nord Stream 2 were certified by Germany’s regulator, then this “could cool the rising gas prices in Europe.”
These arguments should be discarded. The recent crisis is nothing more than an attempt by Russia to weaponize its gas supplies to Europe.
How the EU can strengthen its hand
The decision to slowly reduce the flow of gas through the Ukrainian and Belarusian pipelines has confirmed that Europe is too dependent on Russian gas and is now suffering the consequences.
But not all is lost. If Europe reduced its dependence on Russian gas, this would alleviate the current energy crisis. There are two strategies that Europe could follow to achieve this.
First, the continent could diversify its energy consumption. According to EU statistics, 41 percent of the bloc’s natural gas comes from Russia, while 16 percent comes from Norway. Another 8 percent comes from Algeria and 5 percent is delivered from Qatar.
If the EU expanded its energy market by buying natural gas from additional countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United States, this would diversify the European energy market, hampering Russia’s ability to establish an energy monopoly.
Second, Europe could invest more in renewable and clean energy. According to a recent report, electricity is proving to be cheaper in countries that have more renewable energy sources.
The same article notes that renewable energy generated 40 percent of electricity in the EU from January to June 2020, while fossil fuels generated 34 percent. In other words, renewable energy was more efficient and effective in generating power than fossil fuels.
The EU has also previously stated that it is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030. If Europe is serious about this goal, then it should continue to pursue green energy.
This would not only limit Europe’s dependence on gas, it would also be better for the environment.
Colder winters call for decisive action
Recent events have shown that the European continent is highly dependent on Russian gas. A spike in gas prices and high demand have placed Russia in a position of power, as it is dictating the situation in the energy market.
If Europe reduced its dependence on Russian gas by diversifying its energy consumption and pursuing green energy even further, this would loosen Russia’s grip on Europe.
But if Europe continues down this path, it will undoubtedly be at the mercy of Russia.
This will especially be the case as we approach winter, when citizens need more gas, heat and electricity.
Heavy reliance on natural gas, especially during an anticipated colder winter, would weaken both the European energy sector and national security, leaving Russia undeterred.
The EU ignored earlier warnings about Russian gas. This has caused the current energy crisis. It would be foolish to ignore these warnings again.
Mark Temnycky is a freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and has written for The New York Times, Forbes, EUobserver, EURACTIV, and the Atlantic Council. He has also lectured on Eastern European affairs at the National Defense University, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Michigan, and Boston University.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism