Pipes and Pipe Guns: Gas Warfare in Central Europe
Eastern Europe is aware that many Germans, Europeans, and Americans do oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and see it for what it is—a tool of blackmail. But those who currently have an upper hand in both the United States and Germany will certainly not prevent the Kremlin from using a pipe as a pipe gun.
For all those speaking highly about ideals and European energy-related solidarity, here’s a secret recipe that invokes a moment of lucidity. The recipe consists of many names, with the first four being Francois Fillon (former French prime minister), Karin Kneissl (former Austrian minister for foreign affairs), Gerhard Schröder (former German chancellor), and Paavo Lipponen (former Finnish prime minister). Without elaborating the details, it suffices to say all these former leaders from EU states have been acting to pump Russian fossil fuels into the European energy market irrespective of European interests. In exchange for piles of money, of course.
The Russian-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline will bypass Eastern Europe’s transit market and increase its dependency on Russia. When the pipeline is completed, the Kremlin will be able, for example, to incapacitate Ukraine by terminating the gas supply in the middle of harsh winter. In the meantime, the Western part of the European Union would still receive gas—from Germany, which would become an intermediary transit-wise and an accomplice blackmail-wise.
Certainly, the German-American Nord Stream 2 deal of July 2021 promises to limit the collateral damage. But frankly speaking, these promises are like Nord Stream 2 pipes thus far: empty. Germans themselves admit Germany has little intention of shutting off the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if the Kremlin uses it as a geopolitical weapon. The agreement is thus void. What will happen instead will take the form of a charade of prolonged talks about European sanctions. But these talks will be sabotaged by the group of influential European former ministers who are paid in rubles.
There is, however, some consolation: Central and Eastern Europe have known that a destructive Russian-German alliance could be forthcoming. That is why in 2015 the whole region launched the Three Seas Initiative that bolsters energy, security, and logistics-related cooperation between the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Seas. The Three Seas Initiative Investment Fund is growing and the project is backed by the United States.
One thing the region has not predicted, however, is that the United States would at some point desire to sustain Nord Stream 2 rather than the security of the European Union. In Poland, the staunchest European ally of the United States, this came as a stab in the back. Certainly, Poland is aware that many Germans, Europeans, and Americans do oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and see it for what it is—a tool of blackmail. Eastern European countries are very thankful for this. But those who currently have an upper hand in both the United States and Germany will certainly not prevent the Kremlin from using a pipe as a pipe gun.
Democrats calculate that appeasing Russia will yield positive results, but the empirical evidence points to the contrary. Ukrainians and Poles keep asking: why does Joe Biden want to become “Obama 2.0” if Obama’s appeasement of Russia ended up as a failure? Instead of a friendly reset, there is now a war ongoing in Ukraine, and part of its territory, Crimea, was conquered in 2014.
Appeasing warmongers is a very dubious strategy. Whereas Republicans have realized this already and share a positive, long-term vision that includes the project of the Three Seas, the Democrats are still thinking in old cliches, incapable of changing course. Unfortunately, old thought patterns will lead to old results.
Ukraine was once starved to death by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, now it can freeze to death during winter thanks to Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden, and Angela Merkel.
Piotr Arak is the director of the Polish Economic Institute.
Greg Lewicki is a research fellow at the Pulaski Foundation.