A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.
Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 nears completion. If successful, first, it will thwart America’s attempt to free the European Union from its dependency on Russian energy. Second, it will prevent American LNG from competing fairly in the European markets. Third, it will undermine the Intermarium project. The latter is predicated on energy independence. Its cardinal features include U.S.-backed energy hubs and terminals in strategic locations between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas. Simply, Nord Stream 2 will be a giant step to unmake our geopolitical supremacy and economic supremacy in Europe.
Part of the problem is that Germany wants Nordsteam-2. Berlin has long colluded with Moscow. The short-term objective is to build the pipeline. The long-term objective is to emancipate the Germans from American overlordship resulting from our victory in the Second World War.
To that end, Germany deploys several tools of statecraft, most notably propaganda. First, Berlin indulges in some special pleading. Russia deserves Nord Stream 2 because of all the Nazi atrocities it endured between 1941 and 1945. What’s Poland supposed to say to that? That it enjoyed a dual German-Soviet occupation at the time?
Second, Germany has made the Nord Stream 2 issue into its case for European sovereignty. Chancellor Angela Merkel has long pursued passive resistance to our moves to thwart the pipeline. Her government and its domestic allies have framed the NS-2 question not as an American bid to keep Germany in her place but, rather, as a problem of European sovereignty. According to The New York Times (12 March 2021), “Even if many Europeans dislike Nord Stream 2, they are driven to defend it by Washington’s use of secondary sanctions to punish European companies and even cities, like Sassnitz.” As a German expert put it, “The E.U. sees it as an attack not just against a city but against the E.U. as a whole.’’
Further, Germany meddles in the Intermarium to undercut its bid for energy independence. For instance, Berlin strenuously opposes Poland’s plan for nuclear power. It looks askance at the Baltic Pipeline, a project to connect the Polish market with Norwegian energy suppliers. The Germans further dislike the idea of American LNG directed to a hub in Poland. Angela Merkel’s government blesses “Green” energy, so long as Poland receives it from the EU, a.k.a. Germany.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is eager to capitalize on Europe’s energy dependency. Moscow has sensed its moment has arrived again and keeps up the pressure to finalize the Nord Stream 2 project. Thus, it not only takes advantage of a rather lightweight Joe Biden foreign policy and national security team and a volatile international situation, in particular simmering tensions between Communist China and Taiwan, Moscow also creates crisis opportunities on its own. Triggering trepidation among all and sundry, it then pursues its strategic goals.
It does not preclude the Kremlin’s taking advantage of any of the other, still minor developments and turning one or two of them into a centerpiece of its (and ours) attention. In the best tradition of his empire, President Vladimir Putin has been consistently proactive. As always, his is a masterpiece of integrated Russian statecraft. Russia’s probing starts slowly at multiple points; then it accelerates and de-accelerates as needed.
At the moment, Nord Stream 2 is the main objective. The rest may be just a sideshow. The content of Russia’s strategic thrust develops within the framework of its unceasing propaganda muzak. Essentially, its chimes rehash old melodies: repetition is the key to success.
For example, Putin has recently recalled the 100th anniversary of the Peace of Riga, which terminated the Polish-Soviet War on March 18, 1921. The Russian supremo expressed sorrow over its alleged unfairness: the Poles won, so they got to keep some of the lands of the old Commonwealth that they had managed to save from the Bolsheviks. Thus, the Russian leader hinted, both the Hitler-Stalin Pact of August 1939 and the subsequent Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland were just, for they allowed for the incorporation of those areas into the USSR. Putin also mentioned the alleged mass murder of Bolshevik POWs by the Poles. That never happened, but the tall tale neatly serves to apologize for the Katyn affair of 1940, where Soviet secret police murdered at least 25,000 Allied POWs from the Polish army.
In congruence with the narrative, Russian media applaud Aleksandr Lukashenka’s ongoing crackdown on the Belarusian Poles. Six top community leaders were arrested at the end of March, including Anna Paniszewa, Andżelika Borys, Andrzej Poczobutt, Irena Biernacka, and Maria Tiszkowska. “I’m going to smash your faces in,” the Minsk dictator threatens them with impunity. His comrade Putin smiles serenely, for the crackdown serves a multitude of purposes, including that of a sideshow. It draws the world’s attention away from Ukraine and other games.
And so it goes. Poor, maltreated Russia, always invaded, abused, and denied its rightful whatever – fill in the blank. In this case, it is Nord Stream 2. Moscow pursues its objectives single-mindedly.
Thus, Vladimir Putin has violated Danish territorial waters in the process of constructing the pipeline. He has consistently poked the Swedes through a series of submarine and overflight provocations. He has unnerved the Norwegians by violating their nation’s airspace. Such incursions have become nearly routine in the Baltics, with NATO forces intercepting Russian bombers and fighters and interfering with other instances of sea and land border violation.
Moscow has ordered its troops deployed and reshuffled along the entire western border of the Russian Federation. Most notably, this concerns its eastern Ukrainian dependency and newly conquered Crimea, where an unusually strong Russian troop concentration is underway.
War drums resound; Kyiv is quite scared. Warsaw is sympathetic, but it can’t do much. Neither can the Baltics or anyone else in the Intermarium. The EU has limited itself to issuing impotent protests, as always. Everyone looks to America for leadership.
Meanwhile, no one in the U.S. wants to die for Ukraine. We have enough on our plates. Our eyes are mostly on the revolutionary domestic situation. U.S. cities no longer burn (knock on wood) from below; we have now entered a stage of a revolution from above. We barely manage to divert our glance to China from time to time. Ukraine is not a priority. One senses that that is also the official undercurrent in Washington, D.C.
So far, we have seen not much American action regarding either Ukraine or Nord Stream 2. There is just talk and pious sentiment. “Poland and Ukraine have long warned against the dangers associated with the construction of Nord Stream 2. Our calls for vigilance and boldness were heard in the U.S. Congress, which pressed on with measures designed to stop this dangerous, divisive project,” opines Politico (28 February).
That’s nice, but what about the U.S. President? There is a great deal of confusion. On the one hand, the White House has enabled Russia’s one-trick energy pony by allowing the greatest-ever expansion of sales of Russian gas and crude on our domestic market. This has occurred while the Biden administration has simultaneously crippled our own domestic energy capabilities. We canceled the Keystone project, didn’t we. But we now pour our greenbacks into the coffers of the Kremlin. We’ll buy Russian stuff because the “New Green Deal” prevents us from producing our own energy. How does that square with our policy objectives vis-à-vis Nord Steam 2 or Ukraine?
On the other hand, so far, at least publicly, the White House has been channeling Donald Trump. “President [Joe] Biden has been very clear, he believes the pipeline is a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the United States, ultimately it is in contradiction to the EU’s own security goals,” Antony Blinken reassured our NATO allies during his last visit to the EU. The Biden administration has also loudly declared its support for Ukraine’s integrity and independence.
And what? Not much. By one account, Biden has even scrapped the plans to send U.S. ships to the Black Sea to swagger. At most, there will be sanctions.
We should remember that the drivers of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia stem essentially from the same Obama team that got caught flat-footed by Putin’s invasion of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Like elsewhere, the team members talked big about “crossing red lines,” and so forth. That was all an empty babble.
Now, there are calls for “quiet diplomacy,” both as far as Ukraine and, particularly, in regard to the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As The New York Times put it, “That is a lesson Mr. Biden seems to have accepted, wanting to settle the issue and move on to better relations with powerful Germany — if Congress will let him.”
It is really hard to see the will, resolve, acumen, skill, and heart of the Biden administration to stop Putin at any point, including the construction of Nord Stream 2. I strongly hope that I am wrong.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 16 April 2021