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Europe: Forging a Tenuous Path Towards Energy Security with The Nord Stream

A long-standing dispute over the role of the Nord Stream pipeline running across Europe from Russia to Germany has become a point of contention in both intra-European and European-American relations over the last few months. Since his time in office, U.S. President Donald Trump has vocalized his discontent over the energy relationship between Russia and the rest of Europe, fostered by a Russian primary supply and increasing monopolization over oil and natural gas resources to the rest of the continent. However, President Trump’s sentiments do not stand alone; leaders from across Central and Eastern Europe corroborate American fears over a heavy reliance on Russian energy supply, and support aims to diversify European suppliers to create more solidified source guarantees for European energy security in the future. As Nord Stream continues to embark on its expansion plans for Nord Stream 2, announced in 2015, tensions heighten as the future role of energy security and historic alliances on the continent remain in the balance.

Nord Stream 2 Route;    Source: Gazprom

Nord Stream 2 Route; Source: Gazprom

As the main provider of oil and natural gas to the core of Europe, Russia holds a privileged position over the resource security of many reliant neighboring countries. In recent memory, Russia has weaponized its monopolization over European energy supply by notably cutting off gas supplies to Europe in the winter periods of the years 2006 and 2009. Understandably, these past grievances have yielded tepid and strenuous relations towards Russia’s continued upper hand and now expansionary ambitions to maintain its favorable position of leverage over Europe’s energy security. Many countries previously wronged and affected by Russia’s restrictions, primarily those such as Ukraine and Poland residing in the tenuous post-Soviet space, now find themselves aligning with American resistance to the projected expansion of the Nord Stream pipeline. The pipeline will be controlled and operated through principal ownership by the Russia energy giant Gazprom, in tandem with various European energy subsidiaries.

The relevance of this divided context behind the Nord Stream pipeline and Russia’s European energy monopoly comes into clarity in light of recent events surrounding the fulfillment of Nord Stream 2 expansion plans. On Nov. 9, a running arbitration between Gazprom and the Ukrainian company Naftogaz over unpaid reparations amounting to $2.56 billion due to Naftogaz, resulted in an injunction by a Swiss court redirecting all Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 payments to Gazprom to go to the Swiss authorities. Moreover, on Nov. 13, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, announced that the U.S. had yet to, “‘[deploy] the full set of tools [that] could significantly undermine if not outright stop [the Nord Stream 2] project,’” bringing back into context the standing disapproval of President Trump and various American officials to the Nord Stream’s growing prominence.  

As of now, Washington has declared motive and intent to institute sanctions against affiliates to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Already, the U.S. instituted sanctions against Gazprom in August in attempts to inhibit the company’s ability to fulfill its projected plans. These actions follow suit from bills initiated earlier this year by U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Cory Gardner aiming to amplify American sanctions against Russian energy providers. Presently, these American measures claim to be acting on behalf of European energy security and the interests of protecting vulnerable American allies in Europe. However, one is left to question whether or not American motives stem from a place of partnered altruism or economic promotion and strategic leverage. By derailing Russian efforts and the continuation of Nord Stream, America would be well suited to fill the energy gap left by the void of Russian supplies. Yet, in the process America risks potentially interfering unnecessarily and undesirably, on part of major Nord Stream beneficiaries like Germany, leaving key NATO relationships hanging in the balance. Presently, American hostility towards Nord Stream and Gazprom appears to be undeterred, as Gazprom’s CEO affirmed the company’s intent to finish production of the new pipeline.