Poland and Ukraine Actively Oppose Russia’s Nord Stream 2, but to What Avail?
Thursday, June 24, 2021
Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
This weekend, the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba and Poland Zbigniew Rau coordinated their positions on Nord Stream 2 (the pipeline project connecting Russian and Germany), which they both oppose. The two leaders met in Turkey, on the sidelines of the Antalya Diplomatic Forum. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press service confirmed the two officials see Nord Stream as a threat to the security of their countries and to “Europe as a whole”.
On June 18 US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken talked over the phone with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau, and it was reported Blinken stressed the strength of Polish-American partnership and American cooperation regarding the “threat” supposedly posed by Nord Stream 2 to Poland and to European energy security in general, despite Biden’s recent waiving of sanctions. The US had an interest in selling Europe their own (much more expensive) liquefied natural gas, and so over the last years the US government has adopted a number of legislative measures that paved the way for unilateral sanctions on companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 project.
The truth is that when Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Iceland last month, it was reported the US were relinquishing sanctions against Nord Stream AG’s Russian chief executive Matthias Warnig. This must be seen in light of what appears to be an attempt towards a US-Russian kind of rapprochement, exemplified by the more recent Putin-Biden summit.
At this point, a large portion of the pipeline project is already completed anyway, thus, from an American perspective, it would be pointless to sanction Berlin now. Besides, it would further distance Germany from the United States, and the Biden administration is working hard to revive US-Europe relations, after Trump.
Interestingly, judging by the new turn of events, US President Joe Biden seems to be keeping his predecessor Donald Trump’s (much criticized) vow to improve relations with Russia. Ironically, in spite of Trump’s relatively “pro-Russian” rhetoric, his administration actually levied further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions. The current American government has also left much of Trump’s policies on China in place. So, while we can count on a rhetorical escalation in the US-China negotiations and further tensions, on the other hand, there seems to be some room for US-Russian understanding, albeit limited. And this is bad news for both Ukraine and Poland, given their current positions.
The Nord Stream projects have been the target of much criticism by the US and also by some Eastern and Central European countries, which were concerned about such projects increasing Russia’s influence in Europe in terms of the continent’s dependence on Russian gas. Critics, especially in Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic, claim Moscow is trying to “bypass” them. Some voices elsewhere in Europe have joined the criticism, in Sweden and Finland, for example, pointing to supposed security policy problems. This is part of the growing anti-Russian line that has captured a portion of European politics. But this line does not always play very well for countries such as Poland.
For example, recently, the Polish security forces detained human-rights activist Janusz Niedźwiecki on charges of being a Russian spy, in a case that violated the rule of law several times. He faces up to 10 years in prison, and such has drawn criticism from European voices that see a rise in repression in Poland. In fact, the EU has just warned both Poland and Hungary that its executive branch will take action against these two countries, should they continue to violate EU “democratic standards”.
Warsaw has also been a vocal critic of Belarus, and this must be seen in the context of Poland’s opposition to both Russian and Belarussian energy dominance in the Baltics. It would gain much more from cooperating and negotiating with Moscow, though. Poland has no gas distribution center of its own, and places its bets on the Baltic Pipeline that should connect the Polish coast with Norway. It then plans to offer Germany the use of this infrastructure and thus become a major European gas hub. Work had stalled due to issues with environmental permits, but it is resuming now. However, such project can hardly be seen as a serious alternative to Nord Stream 2, which possesses five times more capacity
Ukraine, too, seeks to accelerate its Euro-Atlantic integration, but such has not been working out very well either, regardless of the so-called “European fever” phenomenon that is exemplified by the several EU flags that can be seen today on many public institutions buildings – even though Ukraine is only expected to formally apply for full EU membership in 2024 (to join it in the 2030s). Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been pressuring Biden to give him a clear “yes” or “no” on the US providing Ukraine with a plan to join NATO – much to no avail. For the US, having the big post-Soviet state joining NATO would amount to going way too far in unnecessarily provoking Russia.
Poland, in its turn, has been one of the US top allies, but recently there have been some tensions. Warsaw is, as mentioned, particularly concerned about Biden waving most of the Nord Stream II sanctions (last month). Prime Minister Morawiecki vehemently condemned it. The truth is Poland is becoming increasingly isolated, and it is about time it rethinks its anti-Russian rhetoric and its relations with Russia. As for Nord Stream, it is a done deal.
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