Roman Bezsmertnyi, for Radio Lemberg, 25.11.2018
Our time has its own analogy of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And it is called “Nord Stream 2” pipeline.
Matryoshka is reasonably a favorite national Russian souvenir. The first layer hides the second, the second is followed by the third. The one who accepts the shell for the substance risks having a profound mistake.
Russia continues to drag Nord Stream 2 to Germany, despite the fact that not all permits for the gas pipelines usage have been received. But the Kremlin's large propaganda and corruption machine is working tirelessly. It drives a wedge into the European Union somewhere by pressure, somewhere by money corrupt injections, somewhere by promises, checking the strength of the values declared by Europeans.
The politicians of "old Europe" would like to follow their own ideals. Also they would like to be re-elected for the next term. And for that burgers’ homes must be warmed, and gas supplied permanently along with modest cost.
"No politics, just business," the Kremlin assures Europe. The Europeans agree, because it’s beneficial for them to agree. But the Energy Strategy of Russia up to 2020 in "Goals and Priorities" section says the following: “Russia holds significant energy resources and a powerful fuel and energy system, which is the basis of economic development, the instrument of domestic and foreign policy. The country's role in world energy markets determines significantly its geopolitical influence. ”
2020 is the year of the Nord Stream 2 planned launch. What a coincidence.
The Nord Stream is being compared with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact not vainly. Pipelines seem to divide Europe into spheres of influence between Moscow and Berlin, making the policy of the EU's main engine be dependent on Russian gas. When a European middlebrow in Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands is sure of the sustained supply of energy, whether he takes through the fate of distant Ukraine, on whose gas transmission system depends the heat in his home today? It is unlikely, because self comes first.
Together with Ukraine, other countries of the so called "Intermarium" region fall into the "gray zone". No wonder that Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland opposed Nord Stream 2 so sharply, despite some cooling of relations between Warsaw and Kyiv. Now, it’s not the right time for neighbors’ disputes, because for everyone who is located "to the east off the Oder river " it is obvious that the gas pipeline is not an economic but a geopolitical project, the new Moscow-Berlin axis. In this part of Europe, the result of the previous one is well remembered. And bloody "golden September" happened not only in Ukraine, but also in Poland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. When gas for "old Europe" is pumped into the Russian-German gas transportation system, what will keep Putin from a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and further?
European bureaucrats today, like 80 years ago, do want stability. In addition, they face a moral dilemma: what is better - gas and money for themselves or European values for everyone? Is it worth going bald-headed against Russia for the sake of the principles? Or is it better once, just once, to agree with conscience, and to get "blue fuel", profits and persuasive rhetoric for the next elections? In addition, Putin has authoritative friends in many high-level European circles - for example, former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, who is also a member of the board of some Russian energy companies.
However, the system does not work that way. When the people on whom continent security depends, put to sleep their own conscience, it will turn into no unity at all, every man for himself, and let the war knock the neighbor’s door, not mine. But Europe is a big multifamily unit, and if it starts burning in one place, then the fire will come to everyone sooner or later.
Blue light of Russian gas can become flame, which can burn the whole Europe from inside.
It is interesting to observe how European bureaucrats try to get around not only their conscience, but also their own directives and regulations. For example, the Third Energy Package, adopted in 2009, is struggling with monopolization and prohibits gas or electricity company-supplyers to control the majority share of distribution networks. "That’s the way it is", - the interested parties agree, and start their legal dancing.
The prohibition of control does not mean the prohibition of constructing; even monopolists can use 50% of the network, etc. Some experts honestly say that Russia can formally bypass the Third Energy Package, if, in addition to Gazprom, Rosneft and Novatek will be allowed into the network. Formally bypass is possible, yes, it’s true. But values can not be professed formally, they are either adhered or not.
Nord Stream 2 carries a series of threats to Europe. First, it splits the EU and NATO, because there are "for" and "against" countries. The unity of the allies, important nowdays, is being collapsed. Mykhailo Honchar, the president of the Center for Global Studies, Strategy XXI, is fair to notice in his interview that there is no gas pipeline yet, but there is already a split within the European institutions.
Secondly, Nord Stream 2 is an espionage tool that allows to scan underwater and above water space by collecting activity data around. Thirdly, the presence of a gas pipeline will give Russia a formal reason to increase its military presence in the region, of course, "in order to ensure the stability of gas supplies to Europe." And then "green men" without distinctive signs may appear on the territory of the Baltic countries.
Fourthly, Nord Stream 2 will put other European states of central and northern Europe in dependence on Berlin, and Berlin will be dependent on Moscow (the south of Europe will embrace the Turkish Stream). There is only one small step from the energy pressure to the political one, and it’s no doubt it will be made. Even today, Germany avoids recognizing Russia's participation in the warfare in the east of Ukraine, preferring vague wording in order not to annoy its "partner".
Gazprom or Rosneft, Miller or Sechin are just different faces of the same organization called the KGB. If Russia clamps Europe within its gas pipelines from north and south - the security system on the continent will remain for few years only. The first to feel it in full will be us, Ukrainians. Just by virtue of geography.
THIRD FORCE FOR UKRAINE
There was a phrase in a movie: "A drop can be protected from drying out by being placed into the sea." This approach can be applied in our situation as well. The only way for Ukraine to survive between the hammer and the anvil, where we are pushed by the tectonic plates of geopolitics, is to tie Ukraine's interests to the interests of more important and serious players. There is no such a player on the continent, because no one wants to face simultaneous complications from both Berlin and Moscow. But that player is over the ocean.
In addition to the Intermarium countries, the opponent of Nord Stream 2 is the United States. Short-term economic interests do not obscure the long-term geostrategic perspective. Anyone who will think the situation over can understand that the war in Europe will become the war in the world. The first volleys of the potential global conflict have been heard in Donbas for five years already.
The USA had its interest in Ukraine. American company Chevron must have become one of the developers of the Yuzivka shale gas-field. This project strongly beat interests of Gazprom, therefore Slavyansk was among the first captured towns by militants. It is obvious while there are fightings in the area, no investor will plough into further development, and therefore, Russia is proactively pulling their gas pipelines to Europe.
Rex Tillerson, the former US Secretary of State, comes from oil and gas establishment. The risks of Russian projects are well understood in Washington. In the current situation, it is not enough for Ukraine just to ask America to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 equipment suppliers. We should offer the United States a more interesting "prize" that will connect the fate of Kyiv with Washington forever.
The possible prize is the only asset - the Ukrainian GTS (gas transit system). There are two ways Americans can be allowed into it: the creation of a joint consortium or, more efficiently, privatization by an American company, like ExxonMobil. Let us not be misled by Tillerson's contacts with the Russians, as recent events have shown, the super power leader can meet even with the North Korean exile, if the US interests require.
Participation in the Ukrainian GTS will allow Americans to promote their interests in Europe more actively, including blocking Nord Stream 2 as well as to maintain security on the continent, and together with it, the integrity of Ukraine. Such kind of processes always moves better, when they are accompanied by quite concrete financial benefits. And vice versa, if it does not happen and the Moscow-Berlin axis operates, the US will become more concerned in regional instability than in its safety. The "gap" between those vectors equals several years.
I anticipate that such a thesis could cause grievance with those who believe that "it’s our pipe, we have no right to sell it and surrender national interests". But the art of politics requires taking efficient decisions in the interests of the country, based not on emotions only, but on realistic assessment of prospects. Today, such a decision is the involvement of Americans into the Ukrainian GTS.
Gas-pipelines with no gas is just a scrap metal. Such a fate awaits Ukrainian GTS in 2-3 years term, when the Russians complete and launch their streams. After that nothing will return transit role to Ukraine. As nothing will keep Putin from further aggression.
Roman Bezsmertnyi is a Ukrainian politician, Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine (2005), presidential candidate for 2019