Nord Stream Pipeline: Cabinet of Knaves

A brief review here of an important European energy project: Nord Stream. That’s the natural gas pipeline currently being built under the Baltic Sea, connecting the Russian coastal town of Vyborg (Выборг, north of St. Petersburg, on the Finnish border) with a western terminal near the East German coastal town of Greifswald. But as the Nord Stream homepage explains, “[This] is more than just a pipeline. It is a new channel for Russian natural gas exports, and a major infrastructure project which sets a new benchmark in EU-Russia cooperation.”

All true, in a way. But the crucial fact that the website is in no hurry to mention is that this pipeline will deliver Russian natural gas to Germany while by-passing the countries through which a cheaper, overland pipeline would normally go, in particular Poland. To be sure, pipelines to Europe through Poland (and the Ukraine) already exist. But Russian relations with those countries are usually rather prickly; with the completion of Nord Stream, the Russian authorities will have the option within a few years to cut them out of natural gas transmission completely – literally to leave them out in the cold, with no gas, as has already happened this past decade during a number of winter-time confrontations with Ukraine.

Those past confrontations have at the same time cut off the gas supply to a number of other EU states (generally in Eastern Europe) dependent on Russia for their winter-warming, and thereby have underlined the EU’s vulnerable over-reliance on those gas supplies. The dawning realization that something needs to be done about this has had the effect, among other things, of a “promotion” of the importance of the EU Commission’s Energy Directorate to being headed by the German commissioner, whereas it was previously headed by the Lithuanian Latvian commissioner. It has also resulted in new attempts to build a southern natural-gas pipeline terminating in the Balkans and originating from some of Russia’s neighbors (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan) who also have natural gas to sell and will probably be more friendly about doing so.

Germans Selling-Out the Poles

The point about the Nord Stream pipeline, however, is that it always was a bad idea from a strategic viewpoint, enabling Russia to split EU unity in any future energy confrontation by delivering gas to some presumably-friendlier countries (Germany and places west) while cutting out rather more uncooperative direct neighbors. Then again, such a massive infrastructure project – with majority (51%) Gazprom ownership but other ownership slices in the hands of Western European energy companies (include the Netherlands’ Gasunie) – was sure to deliver very highly-compensated jobs to those who could get a place within its executive ranks. Then-German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in 2005, having to leave office after losing the national election (and presumably dismissing his Federal pension as inadequate to the lifestyle he was used to leading), jumped straight into the chair of Nord Stream Chairman of the Board. While in office he had been careful to maintain very good relations with Russia generally and Vladimir Putin in particular – suspiciously good relations, as things turned out. In the end, it’s clear that he prostituted himself together with the strategic energy interests of both Germany and the EU to gain more millions of euros towards his retirement account.

Fine; so what’s the point? The point is simply the scoop recently scored by Gazeta Wyborcza about Nord Stream, namely that Erika Steinbach is to be appointed to join Schröder on the Board. We’ve had occasion before here at EuroSavant to discuss Frau Steinbach; she’s the member of the Bundestag for Chancellor Merkel’s CDU party who is better known – or infamous, in Polish circles – as head of the lobbying organization for Germans driven out of eastern lands (mostly Poland and Czechoslovakia) at the end of World War II, and who has pressed for the German government to build a museum devoted to their sufferings. Here’s the quote the Gazeta reporter managed to get from a highly-placed CDU source:

It’s about offering a consolation-prize. Chancellor Merkel did not want to involve Steinbach with the work on the Token of Witness [that museum about the German refugees], so we had to offer something in exchange. I hope the Poles will understand.

Perhaps the Poles will understand in the end, because it all makes a sort of twisted sense: Nord Stream, a Russo-German project damaging to Poland’s strategic interests, becoming a high-salary dumping-ground for German politicians with scant regard for those interests. For now, though, the prospect of having Erika Steinbach appointed to that plum job just feels like a bad April Fool’s joke.

CORRECTION: The EU Commission energy portfolio was previously held by the Latvian commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, not the Lithuanian.

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