On June 4, 2021, The Atlantic Council hosted a virtual event entitled “Nord Stream 2: Pipeline to Controversy?” following the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions against Nord Stream 2. The pipeline is a contentious project, designed to bypass Ukraine and deliver gas from Russia to Germany. The panel featured Richard Morningstar, Daniel Fried, Agnia Grips, and John Herbst, with moderation by Melinda Haring.

Panelists described the Biden administration’s waiving of sanctions as rather surprising and likely unsuccessful in countering the threat posed by Russia to European sovereignty. The administration stated that as the pipeline is 95% complete, sanctions would have been ineffective at stopping its completion. However, Herbst noted that it is unclear how much of the pipeline has actually been completed and that it still must undergo a period of testing before being put to use. The Biden administration’s choice may be partially explained by its desire to improve relations with Germany, but its waiving of sanctions was shocking and it is unclear what more the U.S. will gain from this decision.

The Biden administration must create a deal that mitigates the threat to European energy security posed by Nord Stream 2, while maintaining transatlantic relationships. Panelists repeatedly remarked that Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic states must be included in the process of creating a deal and their needs are crucial to a sustainable outcome. These states are highly unlikely to ever find the pipeline favorable, but its effects on them may be improved with the U.S. as an ally. Fried stated that the U.S. must send a message to the world that it wants to deal with authoritarians, rather than creating a deal with Putin and disregarding the interests of its allies. The U.S. must directly handle its opponents and involve the European states affected by Nord Stream 2. However, Herbst noted Biden’s weakness due to the order in which this process has been run. Ideally, a deal would have been manufactured much earlier on in the pipeline’s construction process, rather than waiving sanctions and then trying to cut a deal.

Speakers also discussed the pipeline’s future in relation to changing dynamics within Germany. The Green Party, which opposes Nord Stream 2, is anticipated to gain more power in Germany. Morningstar stated that the Greens may be able to shift public opinion away from the pipeline as they grow in influence, despite the German business community’s advocacy for the pipeline. Herbst agreed, describing difficulty in understanding the Biden administration’s actions because they are shortsighted. Further, panelists discussed the changing demand for gas in Europe, with Grigas stating that it has plateaued and will likely decline. She also noted that alternative forms of energy production in Crimea (along with a management of corruption) would allow it to become independent of Russia and that it is crucial that renewable energy is explored to support European sovereignty. An increased use of other energy forms would render Nord Stream 2 unsustainable, and Poland has already built an alternative pipeline to take away leverage from Putin. 

Watch the full event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-I06DjAFd0

By PAC Policy Intern Caroline Nowak

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Caroline Nowak is a student at Tufts University pursuing International Relations and Russian and East European Studies.

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