Biden vs Merkel: the battle over Russian gas is heating up

Since its inception, the pipeline —which runs directly from Russia to Germany — has been opposed by many in Europe who share America’s concerns about dependency on Russian energy. Some see it as a ploy to allow Russia to stop sending gas via Ukraine so it can escalate the conflict there. After the arrest of Alexei Navalny, the European parliament voted to cancel the project, to no avail. In Poland, one minister even compared it to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. That’s a vast exaggeration, but it’s indicative of the conspiracy theories that Nord Stream 2 has spawned. The Germans, for example, peddle the story that the Americans are against the project because they want to sell their own liquid natural gas to Europeans. That is not true either.

The row shows that the relationship between Germany and Russia is far closer than is generally understood. Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor, is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin, whom he famously called a ‘flawless democrat’. Schröder now chairs the Nord Stream 2 supervisory board. While the company is based in Switzerland, it is fully owned by Gazprom, the Russian energy conglomerate. Angela Merkel has been more reserved in her praise for Putin, but when she and Putin meet, they talk in Russian.

Russia is not necessarily a country many Germans like, but it is a country they understand quite well. German politicians reacted almost euphorically to the interim test results of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine at the beginning of the month. Compare this with the way they scorned the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a German official leaked the false claim that it does not work for older people. Sputnik is, technically, very similar to Oxford. But that doesn’t seem to dampen the eagerness with which the Germans anticipate its arrival.

In theory, the vaccine and the pipeline are separate issues, but can we really imagine that Germany would welcome a Russian vaccine only to boycott Russian gas, in protest at misbehaviour in the Kremlin? The vaccines and the pipeline deepen Germany’s dependence on Russia and Russia’s dependence on the German market. We’re witnessing the beginning of a new friendship.

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