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Portnikov: A big war and the “streams”

Russian gas pipelines Nord Stream (Nord Stream 1) and Nord Stream 2 (under construction). Image: gazprom.com
Russian gas pipelines Nord Stream (Nord Stream 1) and Nord Stream 2 (under construction). Image: gazprom.com
Portnikov: A big war and the “streams”
Translated by: A. N.

The US Senate Committee on International Affairs supported the introduction of sanctions against the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline which is currently under construction. The same decision actually introduces sanctions against another Russian “alternative” pipeline – the Turkish Stream – in the section that concerns the Ukrainian transit. It was decided that the sanctions will affect all participants in the construction of the Nord Stream-2. The portion of the construction participants’ assets under American jurisdiction, must be frozen, the company representatives themselves are prohibited from entering the territory of the United States.

This is one of the first steps towards such serious sanctions. In the future, the Senate and the House of Representatives must vote for these sanction amendments, and they must be signed by the US President into law. However, in this particular case, the interests of congressmen trying to limit the energy dictates of Russia and the interests of Donald Trump, who is trying to increase sales of American gas to Europe, almost coincide. Trump warned the European governments, and especially the German leadership, more than couple of times about the danger of increasing energy cooperation with Moscow. However, European leaders, who often reproached the American president for being too lenient with Vladimir Putin, preferred to ignore these warnings. Or simply they were offended by the awkward American who does not respect their sovereignty.

Nevertheless, the danger of completing the construction of alternative Russian gas pipelines and of Moscow’s refusal of Ukrainian transit is obvious. And this is not only Kyiv’s loss of transit revenues. This is not the worst thing, on the contrary, the loss of income can force Western lenders to be tougher with the Ukrainian leadership, and force this leadership itself to undertake the necessary economic reforms and forget about the unrealistic “wants” of their own population, for which there simply will be no money.

The most dangerous thing in the Russian pipelines is not money, but war. Moscow, until recently, was kept from large-scale military operations on Ukrainian territory simply because it did not want to jeopardize its energy transit and its gas delivery obligations to the Europeans. It is clear that a real war with the use of aircraft and tanks may at any time affect the “pipe,” even if there is no specific intention to destroy it and the parties will try to fight so as not to affect the gas route. But no one has yet been able to restrict military actions by a kilometer. In addition, a big war is always chaos, radicalization of moods, desperate actions. If Ukraine loses such a war — and it is unlikely to be able to win it — the Ukrainian leadership may have a natural temptation to stop transit itself, in order to make the West remember Ukraine and act more resolutely. And Moscow understands this perfectly well. Therefore, new pipelines are being built by Russia – so that in the days of the war Kyiv could not blackmail anyone by stopping the transit, so that it would remain helpless.

Europeans, and in particular representatives of the German authorities, do not want to hear about anything like that. For unknown reasons, they have convinced themselves that Putin will never decide on a big war, that it is unprofitable for him, that he can achieve his goals with the help of a “hybrid” war. It seems that all these people live in Putin’s head! But until 2014, they did not believe in a “hybrid” war, they did not believe that Putin would go to annexation of Crimea, and that then he would invade the Ukrainian mainland! But it all happened.

And a big war can happen. The Ukrainian gas transportation system is one of the few factors that discourage this war. The construction of new “streams” by Russia is one of many factors that are bringing this war closer. The Europeans not only cannot stop this construction, but do not want to (although the Danes, they must give them their due, they are trying very hard to).

And the Americans still have a chance.

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Translated by: A. N.
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