The 750-mile pipeline was completed in September but has not yet received final certification from German regulators. When up and running, it would boost deliveries of gas directly from Russia to Germany.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and several EU countries have opposed the pipeline since it was announced in 2015, warning the project would increase Moscow’s influence in Europe.
Nord Stream 2 could deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year. That could be worth as much as $15 billion to Gazprom, the Russian state owned company that controls the pipeline, based on its average export price in 2021.
Energy is politics
Energy is a major political issue in central and eastern Europe, where gas supplies from Russia play an essential role in power generation and home heating. Natural gas prices are already near record highs in Europe, and a conflict in Ukraine could bring more pain to consumers.
As Russia’s biggest gas customer, Germany has tried to keep Nord Stream 2 out of global politics. But the issue has become unavoidable after Russia amassed over 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine.
There’s lots of history here.
Disputes over energy prices have plagued the relationship between Russia and Ukraine ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with Russia cutting supplies of gas to its neighbor on a number of occasions.
Nord Stream 2 could help change the balance of power in Europe when it comes to energy. At the moment, Russia needs Ukraine, because a large amount of the gas it sells to Europe flows to the rest of the continent through the country.
What are the key players saying?
Nord Stream 2 was a major focus when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the White House on Monday.
Scholz said Germany was ready to act together with the United States. Asked specifically whether Germany was prepared to pull the plug on the pipeline, the chancellor said “we are absolutely united.”
“We will do the same steps, and they will be very, very hard to Russia,” Scholz told reporters.
Can the United States kill Nord Stream 2?
US officials have made clear that they would move to suspend Nord Stream 2 if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of Ukraine. They’ve been much less specific on how that would be accomplished.
“I promise you, we’ll be able to do it,” Biden said Monday when pressed for more details.
Sanctions are one potential tool.
The United States targeted the pipeline with sanctions legislation in 2017, 2019 and 2020, according to the Congressional Research Service. In January 2021, the Trump administration even imposed sanctions on a pipe-laying barge that Gazprom used to build Nord Stream 2.
Still, the pipeline was completed, raising questions about whether additional sanctions would be effective in preventing it from coming online.
“US officials have suggested the administration’s ability to prevent the pipeline from becoming operational is limited, even with additional sanctions,” Congressional Research Service analysts wrote in December.
Germany has much more control over the project. But it also has much more on the line.
The view from Berlin and Moscow
Russia accounts for more than half of Germany’s gas imports.
The relationship goes back decades. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder committed in 2000 to phasing out Germany’s nuclear power plants, a policy that continued under his successor, Angela Merkel.
Ulrich Speck, a visiting senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, said that Germany invested in Russia over the past two decades in hopes of modernizing the country and bringing about political change.
“Now all of these economic relationships are becoming geopolitically problematic and [Germany has to] revise its attitude towards Russia,” Speck said during a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute on Monday.
Still, it would be legally complicated for Germany to drop Nord Stream 2, according to Kadri Liik, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. She also said the importance of the pipeline is…