A.On Monday, ngela Merkel may have met a President of Ukraine for the last time as Chancellor – Volodymyr Selenskyj came to her in the Chancellery that evening after visiting Federal President Steinmeier, among others. The meeting was closely related to another date on the Chancellor’s calendar for the week: the trip to Washington on Thursday, the first since Joe Biden has hosted there.
The link is an issue that strains Germany’s relations with Ukraine as well as those with America: the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. The gas pipeline has been built for years by a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned company Gazprom and is apparently almost finished. Matthias Warnig, CEO of Nord Stream 2, has just told Handelsblatt that work will probably be finished by the end of August.
Zelenskyj and Biden are of the opinion that the Russian Baltic Sea pipeline is not a mere economic project, as Merkel repeatedly says in her defense. Zelensky, whose country, in the east of which there are still intervention troops controlled by Moscow, was invaded by Russia in 2014, said in an interview with the FAZ at the beginning of June: Nord Stream is “a weapon” against his country, and more “A very sharp one”.
Is the war flaring up again in eastern Ukraine?
The reasoning behind it goes like this: Russia lives from gas exports to Europe, among other things, and its most important transport route currently goes through Ukraine. It would therefore be risky for Russia at the moment to rekindle its war against Kiev, which it has been waging at half-force for a few years. With Nord Stream 2 in the Baltic Sea, Moscow could do without the Ukrainian lines.
You see it that way in Washington too. Under President Donald Trump, America imposed sanctions on companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2, and Biden also believes the project is a “bad deal.” Accordingly, the US State Department found in May that Nord Stream 2 and its boss Warnig could be subject to sanctions. But because Biden wants good relations with Germany, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken has temporarily stopped the execution of the punitive measures. For Merkel, who has always supported the project together with the SPD, it will therefore be important to find a way that reassures everyone.
The federal government is initially relying on the idea of making the opening of Nord Stream 2 subject to conditions: the new pipeline should only be able to go online if Russia extends its current transit contract with Ukraine. It will expire at the end of 2024, after which Kiev is threatened with huge losses in transit fees.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert recently pointed out that the current agreement makes it possible to extend it until 2034. It is doubtful, however, that Russia will agree to this. Putin recently said that he could only envisage an extension if Kiev showed “goodwill” and did not use future income to defend itself. From Kiev’s point of view, this is hardly to be accepted.
Therefore, a new idea could gain importance: It has recently been heard from several sources that Ukraine could rededicate its transit lines: Instead of Russian natural gas, the tubes could transport green hydrogen in a post-fossil future. It could very soon be produced in large quantities from wind and solar energy in Ukraine, the largest European country in terms of area, and help Europe to achieve its climate goals. This could be a tempting prospect for Ukraine, especially since the gas transit business is likely to end at the latest when Europe achieves its goal of becoming climate neutral by the middle of the century.