Thursday, July 19, 2018

"How Russian gas became Europe’s most divisive commodity"

As the kids say: Find someone to look at you the way Putin looks at Gerhard Schröder. 
They also hug a lot.
 A lot.

From the Financial Times:

FT Big Read, July 17:
Nord Stream 2 will pipe energy to Germany but critics warn of political tensions
Lubmin is a picturesque resort on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast that boasts a long stretch of sandy beach bordered by soft dunes and a lush pine forest. Located a few hours north of Berlin, the town offers tourists a postcard version of seaside tranquility. Or it would, were it not for the fleet of excavator barges that sails out from the local port every day, and the large building site hiding behind the pines.

Both are part of a fiercely contentious project that has split Europe down the middle, and set Germany on a collision course with some of its closest allies. Out in the sea, the excavator barges are digging a massive underwater trench that runs in a straight line towards the building site on land. If all goes to plan, that trench will soon hold a pipeline filled with the most explosive commodity in European politics today: Russian gas. 

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been in planning since 2015, and is due for completion in late 2019. Its defenders argue the project makes perfect commercial sense: the pipeline will connect the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas with the largest economy in Europe, doubling the capacity of the existing trans-Baltic link, Nord Stream 1, which has been operational since 2011. Together, the two pipelines will eventually be able to carry 110bn cubic metres a year of natural gas, enough to meet almost a quarter of total demand across the EU.

Critics regard the pipeline — and Germany’s role in it — as an act of betrayal and a geopolitical folly of the first order. Countries such as Poland and Ukraine have denounced it as a blatant attempt to marginalise their own gas pipelines — and a reckless move that will leave them and the rest of Europe at the mercy of Moscow. The European Commission is another opponent of Nord Stream, arguing the project undermines its push for greater energy independence and more diversified supplies.

The most formidable adversary, however, sits in Washington. President Donald Trump has made clear repeatedly that he wants to stop the €9.5bn project — and that he is ready to impose tough sanctions to achieve that goal. Last week, Mr Trump launched a blistering attack on the new pipeline at the Nato summit in Brussels, warning that Germany had become “captive to Russia, because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia”.

Kirsten Westphal, an energy analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, likens Nord Stream 2 to an “onion” — you peel away layer after layer of controversy only to discover that the next one is more contentious still. At its core, however, the pipeline poses a simple but crucial question: should the west trust Russia or not?

 “Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the war in Ukraine have changed everything,” says Ms Westphal. “For many people in the west, the idea that Russia is a dependable partner has gone. There is doubt: given all the geopolitical tensions, should we further expand our energy relationship with Russia? Should we make a bet, despite it all, to keep the channel open?”....