U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday appointed a senior advisor for energy security whose immediate focus will be mitigation of risks posed by Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to energy security in Europe, according to a statement.
Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat, was nominated a senior advisor for Energy Security at the Department and he’s been tasked with implementing measures recently agreed by the United States and Germany to reduce the risk of Russia using energy as a weapon.
Hochstein, who held a number of senior advisor positions in the government and the private sector, was also a special envoy for international energy affairs and an assistant secretary of state for energy resources during President Barack Obama’s tenure.
A joint statement issued by the United States and Germany in July sought to mitigate Russian efforts to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine and Central and Eastern Europe, as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline—which will transport Russian gas to Europe— nears completion.
The Biden administration waived in May sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG (the project’s company), its chief executive, and corporate officers because the pipeline was more than 90 percent complete at the time President Joe Biden took office. The move met with opposition from Ukraine and Poland—the traditional transit routes for Russian energy to Europe.
Svitlana Zalishchuk, advisor to the Ukrainian government and to the state-owned Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftogaz, said that the agreement between the U.S. and Germany was “pretty weak.”
“It doesn’t have any legal force, it’s not a treaty,” she said about the U.S.-Germany statement. “Any new government coming to Germany can just ignore it or can change it.”
“The statement itself, it doesn’t provide a very clear vision of what exactly will be done if, for example, Putin will decide to use Nord Stream 2 as an energy weapon against Ukraine and the European Union,” Zalishchuk said at an event at Warsaw Institute, a Poland-based think tank on Aug. 5.
According to Zalishchuk, Nord Stream 2 will be finished by late August. “But to finish the pipeline, and to make it operational, are quite two different things,” she added.
To become operational, Nord Stream 2 must be certified which means that the pipeline has to comply with all kinds of standards and rules required by the European Union as Germany is a member of the EU, the advisor explained.
According to EU rules, it is prohibited for one group or one company to control both the production of the gas and the transit of the gas, Zalishchuk said. “It creates the natural monopoly that can be dangerous for the European Union. It also decreases the competition on the energy market.”
How Nord Stream 2 Impacts Security
The pipeline is owned by Russian state-run company Gazprom and is similar to the Nord Stream pipeline that’s already in operation and directly connects Germany with Russian gas.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia decided to use that energy infrastructure and energy projects as instruments to influence former Soviet republics, Zalishchuk said.
The Nord Stream 2 project started in 2015 to bypass gas transit routes through Ukraine after Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backed a rebellion in Ukrainian Donbas in 2014, the advisor explained.
Zalishchuk believed that “the Ukrainian gas system was kind of a deterrent for further Russian aggression on Ukrainian territory” because Russia depends on Ukraine if it wants to supply its gas to consumers in Europe.
Also, the Ukrainian transit pipeline makes European consumers reliant on Ukraine for their gas needs, Zalishchuk said, so transiting gas gave the country “a security shield” from further Russian aggression into Ukrainian territory.
“As soon as Europeans can get their gas through other channels we understand that it makes Ukraine more vulnerable.”
“This pipeline is not just money, it’s not just gas but first of all, it’s a security shield. It’s a security argument,” Zalishchuk added.
Nord Stream 2 will not only impact Ukraine’s security but also Europe’s security, she said.
“Europe does not take into account the fact that Russia will use the emergence of NS2 [Nord Stream 2] to increase its military presence in the Baltic Sea,” said Mykhailo Gonchar, president of the Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI”, a Ukrainian think-tank. (pdf)
“There will be a kind of ‘legal militarization’ of the Baltic because according to the Kremlin’s logic, the new two lines of the NS2 and the existing two lines of the NS1[Nord Stream 1] need enhanced protection against hostile actions by third countries,” Gonchar said at the U.S.-Ukraine Security Dialogue in March.
The agreement with Russia for an undersea pipeline to be built by the Nord Stream group was signed in 2005 by Germany’s former chancellor Gerhard Schröder during his last weeks in office. After leaving the office, Schröder became the chairman of the shareholders’ committee of the European-Russian company Nord Stream AG.
Lawmakers Oppose Nord Stream 2
Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee together with his counterparts from Baltic countries and some other European states, issued on Aug. 2 a joint statement opposing the July agreement between the United States and Germany for allowing the completion of Nord Stream 2.
“We consider Nord Stream 2 a geopolitical project geared towards expanding Russia’s influence on Europe by dominating the energy market,” said Menendez joined by chairmen of foreign affairs committees from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Czechia, Ireland, Ukraine, and the UK in the statement.
“The completion of the pipeline will strengthen the impact of Russian gas in the European energy mix, endanger the national security of EU member states and the United States, and threaten the already precarious security and sovereignty of Ukraine,” the lawmakers said.
“We expect a clear commitment from Germany to reduce dependency on gas imported from Russia and move towards green energy.”
The signatories also urged NATO to strengthen deterrence, especially on the eastern flank from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. They also called for delivering a road map for Ukraine’s path towards joining NATO and a plan for the country’s accession to the EU.
They also demanded that any further agreements on Nord Stream 2 should be consulted across the transatlantic community, the statement said.
Reuters contributed to this report.