EXPLANATION: What is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline?
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has suspended the certification process for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline after Russia recognized separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine amid fears of a large-scale invasion by the West.
The undersea gas pipeline connects Russian gas directly to Europe via Germany and is complete but not yet operational. It has become a major target as Western governments try to leverage Russia to deter further military action against its neighbor.
Here are the key things to understand about the pipeline:
WHAT IS NORD STREAM 2?
It is a 1,230 kilometer (764 mile long) gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, running from Russia to the German Baltic coast.
It runs parallel to a former Nord Stream gas pipeline and would double its capacity, to 110 billion cubic meters of gas per year. This means that Gazprom can send gas to the European gas pipeline network without using existing gas pipelines crossing Ukraine and Poland.
The pipeline was filled with gas but was awaiting approval from Germany and the European Commission.
HOW DOES SCHOLZ BLOCK THE PIPELINE?
Germany’s utility regulator was reviewing the pipeline to make sure it complied with EU fair competition regulations. It is this approval process that Scholz announced on Tuesday that he was suspending.
Germany was required to submit a report on how the pipeline would affect energy security, and Scholz said that report was withdrawn.
WHY IS SCHOLZ ACTING NOW?
Scholz, who took over Germany in December, backed the plan as finance minister of his predecessor, Angela Merkel, and his social democratic party backed it. As Russia massed troops near the Ukrainian border, Scholz avoided making specific reference to Nord Stream 2, even though US officials said he would not advance if Russia invaded.
But Scholz warned that Russia would face “serious consequences” and that sanctions must be ready in advance. Germany had previously agreed with the United States to act against Nord Stream 2 if Russia weaponized the gas or attacked Ukraine.
The Chancellor said on Tuesday that Russia’s recognition of the independence of rebel-held areas in Ukraine marked a “serious violation of international law” and that it was necessary “to send a clear signal to Moscow that such actions will not remain without consequences”.
WHY DOES RUSSIA WANT THE PIPELINE?
State-owned gas giant Gazprom says it will meet Europe’s growing need for affordable natural gas and complement existing pipelines through Belarus and Ukraine.
Nord Stream 2 would provide an alternative to Ukraine’s aging system which Gazprom says needs updating, reduce costs by saving on transit fees paid to Ukraine and avoid episodes such as brief gas cuts in 2006 and 2009 due to price and payment disputes between Russia and Ukraine.
Europe is a key market for Gazprom, whose sales support the Russian government’s budget. Europe needs gas because it replaces decommissioned coal and nuclear power plants before renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are sufficiently developed.
WHY IS THE USA AGAINST NORD STREAM 2?
The United States, European NATO allies such as Poland and Ukraine opposed the project before the Biden administration, saying it increases Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. and gives Russia the ability to use gas as a geopolitical weapon. Europe imports most of its gas and gets around 40% of its supply from Russia.
The pipeline, which was set up under Merkel, has been an irritant in US-German relations. Biden waived sanctions on the pipeline operator as it neared completion in exchange for Germany agreeing to take action against Russia if it weaponized the gas or attacked Ukraine.
In Congress, Republicans and Democrats – in a rare agreement – have long opposed Nord Stream 2.
WILL NORD STREAM 2 SUSPENSION MAKE EUROPEANS FREEZING THIS WINTER?
No. Even before Scholz’s move, regulators made it clear that the approvals process could not be completed in the first half of the year. This means the pipeline was not going to help meet heating and power needs this winter as the continent faces a gas shortage.
The winter shortage continued to fuel concerns about dependence on Russian gas. Russia has refrained from selling gas in the short term – even though it has fulfilled long-term contracts with European customers – and has not filled its underground storage in Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the shortage underscores the need to quickly approve Nord Stream 2, increasing concerns over Russia’s use of the gas to gain leverage over Europe.
COULD RUSSIA CUT OFF GAS TO EUROPE IN REPRISAL?
While Europe needs Russian gas, Gazprom also needs the European market. This interdependence is why many believe Russia will not cut off supplies to Europe even if the Ukrainian conflict escalates further, and Russian officials have stressed they have no intention of doing so.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian crisis, in addition to the winter shortage, has already given European governments more reason to find their gas elsewhere, for example thanks to liquefied gas brought by ship from the United States, Algeria and other countries. other places.
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Lisa Mascaro and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed.