[Opinion] Nord Stream 2 At The Epicenter Of Russia's Conflict With The West

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[Opinion] Nord Stream 2 At The Epicenter Of Russia's Conflict With The West

Wed, 01/26/2022 - 12:38
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The flag of Russia and Ukraine painted on a concrete wall with soldiers' shadows (© Shutterstock/Tomas Ragina)
The flag of Russia and Ukraine painted on a concrete wall with soldiers' shadows (© Shutterstock/Tomas Ragina)

Every few years one sees the name and thought of Carl von Clausewitz, the famous Prussian strategist, dug out of the historical archives when geopolitical tensions and the threat of war are cresting. Clausewitz's maxim "war is a continuation of policy by other means" is particularly relevant for Nord Stream 2 as the pipeline plays a central role in the deliberations of both the Russians and the western allies standing with the Ukraine.

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is under growing domestic pressure from energy companies and the pacifist German population to keep Nord Stream 2 out of the superpower political wrangling. Despite his best efforts to retain sovereignty over Nord Stream, Scholz will not have the final say, as the project is subject to the approval of European Union regulators.  The EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said last week that approval was tied to any potential conflict with Russia over Ukraine.  In other words, if Russia invades no Nord Stream.  Its $11 billion price tag becoming a sunk cost.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasized that Russia is a signatory of binding international rules that outlaw the use of force as an instrument of policy and that if violated there could be consequences for Nord Stream 2.  Baerbock said "we have reiterated again and again, at different levels of this federal government, that should energy be used as a weapon [by Russia], that would then also have appropriate consequences with regard to this pipeline."

Some commentators say the buildup of Russian forces is but one massive strategic deception, cleverly staged to lend the appearance of imminent attack, but its real meaning hidden in the complex machinery of Putin's mind.  In their reading of the tea leaves, Putin seeks two things:  1) the ultimate and immediate approval of Nord Stream 2 in order for the pipeline to begin long-awaited operations; 2) the public rejection of any thought of the Ukraine joining NATO.   In this version of chess and judo, it seems the operation of Nord Stream 2 is more likely than a final disavowal of a NATO membership for the Ukraine.

All of this suggests that a limited-scale operation brings no benefits Russia doesn’t already have, while a full-on onslaught designed to take and hold Ukrainian territory is considered beyond the reach of the force currently assembled.  Nord Stream 2 will most certainly see operations this year.  But the cost to Russia has been high with its president increasingly being perceived in the west as untrustworthy bully, just when his previous seizure of the Crimea and incursions into the Donbas in south-eastern Ukraine were fading from western memory.

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