Russian natural gas is flowing again into Germany as the critical Nord Stream pipeline restarted operations after its annual maintenance operations were finished. The Nord Stream restart is a sigh of relief for European countries that depend on Russian gas and another show of the power that Putin still has over the economic and political stability of large swaths of the continent.
The pipeline, not to be confused with the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, connects Russia with Germany through the Baltic Sea and provides 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas per year —approximately 40% of the total Russian gas imports to the European Union. Since almost 40% of the EU’s gas comes from Russia, the Nord Stream pipeline status is critical for the economic bloc.
The pipeline had been operating well under its capacity since June, as Putin’s government argued that Russian energy companies were experimenting with technical difficulties linked to the Western economic sanctions implemented against Russia. European capitals entered full alert mode earlier this month, as a total shutdown of the Nord Stream pipeline would probably bring Germany to an economic recession and energy crisis.
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Nevertheless, the resumption of Russian gas deliveries through the Nord Stream pipeline is not the end of the European fears of an energy crisis. According to German officials cited by the Wall Street Journal, it is expected that the amount of natural gas flowing through the Nord Stream will be well below the pre-invasion levels. This prevents Germany and other European countries from building up gas reserves for the winter.
While Russia has kept sending at least some natural gas to Europe, the threat of a complete shutdown of Russian gas is one of the top concerns being discussed across European capitals. As a part of this panic, it was reported that the European Commission was drafting emergency plans that would force member states to drastically reduce their gas consumption to save gas for the incoming winter.
Europe has made a public commitment to stop relying upon Russian natural gas by 2024, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine destroyed the previous political consensus over the continent’s reliance on Russian energy. However, even if there was enough political will to overhaul the EU’s energy policy completely, there is not enough time to do so before winter, when demand for natural gas rises dramatically due to the continent’s low temperatures.
Nord Stream restart shows the dangers of the years-long European dependency on Russian Gas
The continent’s dependency on Russian gas means that the economic and political stability of Europe’s biggest economies is in the hands of Vladimir Putin. He could decide to stop sending any natural gas to Europe as a way to cause internal political strife and debilitate Western support to the Ukrainian army, which has heroically resisted the Russian attempts to subdue the country this year.
Europeans have been building this dependence on Russian gas for years, despite stark warnings by American officials that doing so would give too much political and financial leverage to the Kremlin. The best example of this self-imposed dependency was Germany’s energy policy during the 13 years when Angela Merkel led the government.
Merkel pushed very hard for the construction of a second Nord Stream pipeline. This would allow Germany to get even more Russian gas through the Baltic sea, allowing Berlin to increase their dependence on Russian gas without relying on the pipelines that go through Ukraine, which supply another large percentage of the European gas demand.
Despite the opposition of both the Obama and Trump administrations to Merkel’s project, the Germans continued to push for the completion of the pipeline. Eventually, Biden buckled to Germany’s pressures and agreed to lift sanctions on the channel in 2021. The thing that stopped Nord Stream 2 was the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which forced the new chancellor Olaf Scholz to suspend it in February.
Not only did Merkel increase reliance on Russian gas, but she also was instrumental in the dilapidation of Germany’s domestic energy production when she decided to phase out the country’s nuclear energy industry by 2022. This decision meant that Germany went from producing one-quarter of its electricity from domestic nuclear power plants in 2011 to a planned total of zero megawatts of energy when the last plants are scheduled to shut down later this year.
Although Germany is not the only country that followed this dual strategy of increasing its reliance on Russian gas while decreasing its domestic production, Berlin’s decision to do so is an excellent illustration of why Europe’s political and economic stability is now in the hands of Vladimir Putin and the Russian army.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.