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War in Ukraine: why Germany is cautious to punish Russia?


On Tuesday, February 22, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the suspension of commissioning certificates for a very controversial project: that of the Nord-Stream 2 gas pipeline, transporting, in parallel to the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline already operational since 2011, gas Russian to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

To meet its gas energy needs, Germany depends up to 55% on these supplies. The commissioning of Nord Stream 2 would have reduced this dependency from 55 to 70%. The issue of sanctions against Moscow is therefore not the same in Berlin as in Paris, since France imports only 20% of its gas from Russia.

But the issue is not only energy: the two Nord Stream gas pipelines were created thanks to German banks and the government of Gerhard Schröder, who guaranteed a loan of more than one billion euros. for their construction in 2005. Since then, Schröder, a declared friend of President Putin, has become a shareholder in the companies Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2, and was also appointed in early February to the supervisory board of Gazprom, the Russian state enterprise responsible for extracting, processing and transporting gas from Russia to Germany. Nord Stream 1 was commissioned in 2011, and throughout the Merkel years, the Chancellor, though critical of her predecessor’s extra-political activities, championed the project as a key rapprochement between Russia and the EU. Germany, operating there an economic diplomacy that it deemed necessary.

“Pay a high price”

Olaf Scholz, vice-chancellor between 2018 and 2021, inherited a thorny file, and by suspending Nord Stream 2, he resolved to side not only with the pressures of his European partners but also those of his partners in coalition, including Economy Minister Robert Habeck, for whom “it would have been smarter not to build Nord Stream 2, because in Europe we need a diverse, multiple energy landscape, and not a latent risk in the Baltic Sea. For too long, we preferred close your eyes by presenting this gas pipeline as a purely economic project, but it is not: these days, energy policy is part of security policy and geopolitics.

Within the coalition, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, also an advocate for the abandonment of Nord Stream 2, was firm: “Germany cannot and must not avoid sanctions against Russia, and we are ready to pay a high price.”

Indeed, within the population, if two thirds of the Germans are worried about the rise in energy prices, already announced, half declare themselves ready to assume the sanctions deemed necessary. At the head of the European Council for International Relations in Berlin, Jana Puglierin explains: “By deciding to suspend Nord Stream 2, Germany has taken an important first step, but it can only be the start. Tougher sanctions must follow, and Europe must prepare to take in Ukrainian refugees and strengthen NATO’s deterrent capabilities. Berlin is central to this and must take the lead in Europe.” This is precisely where the shoe pinches: with Nord Stream 2, Berlin has anything but taken the lead, and has only acted once with its back to the wall. And Nord Stream 1 continues, for lack of alternatives to this energy source, to bring Russian gas to Germany.

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