Will the EU stand up for eastern Europe? This question is now being asked by Ukraine following the announcement of a deal between Germany and the USA which paves the way for the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and western Europe.
The deal reached by Merkel and Biden may have placated critics in Washington, but it has failed to allay eastern European concerns over the security implications of the project. The state most affected by Nord Stream 2, Ukraine, has now requested urgent consultations with the European Commission and the German government, adding an air of legal weight to its complaints by invoking provisions of its ‘Association Agreement’ with the EU. It suggests that by taking negotiations with the Biden administration into its own hands, the German government violated the EU’s requirement for ‘solidarity’ on potential energy crisis situations.
Nord Stream 2 promises eye-watering commercial benefits for Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse, and Commission officials have insisted that they do not have the power to stop the project. But in central and eastern Europe the pipeline is seen as a direct threat to regional security. Ukraine fears Nord Stream 2 will leave the country vulnerable to Russian territorial aggression by ending Moscow’s reliance on Ukrainian infrastructure for the supply of natural gas to western Europe. Other eastern European countries are meanwhile worried that the project may eventually make the region’s gas supply dependent on the whim of Vladimir Putin.
A joint statement by Ukraine and Poland in response to the US-German deal said, ‘this decision has created political, military and energy threats for Ukraine and Central Europe, while increasing Russia’s potential to destabilise the security situation in Europe, perpetuating divisions among Nato and European Union member states.’
For many eastern EU nations, Nord Stream 2 is emblematic of the West’s soft, self-interested stance on Russian influence in eastern Europe.