The Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine, the US state department has said, in a significant strengthening of the west’s previous position on the strategically vital gas supply.
As tension ratcheted up over Russia’s military buildup on its neighbour’s eastern border, state department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday night that the Biden administration was “working with Germany” to ensure it could withstand the loss of the pipeline.
“I want to be very clear: if Russia invades Ukraine one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” Price told National Public Radio. “I’m not going to get into the specifics. We will work with Germany to ensure it does not move forward.”
Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, who has previously argued in favour of imposing energy sanctions in response to aggression from Moscow, said the future of Nord Stream 2 could be up for discussion as part of a “broad range” of possible responses to Russian aggression.
“In the case of a new act of aggression, we have a broad bandwidth of responses at our disposal, including Nord Stream 2,” she told the Bundestag on Thursday.
She stressed that she would prefer to “continue the dialogue” with Russia – because “if you’re talking, you’re not shooting” – but not at any price. “We need to make it completely clear that renewed military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences for Russia,” she said.
Europe’s most divisive energy project, Nord Stream 2 is designed to double the amount of gas flowing from Russia straight to Germany, bypassing the traditional transit route through Ukraine via a pipeline along the bed of the Baltic Sea.
It has faced resistance within the EU, from the US as well as Ukraine on the grounds it increases Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and denies Ukraine transit fees, at a time of Moscow’s broader standoff with the west.
The $11 billion pipeline was first announced in 2015. Angela Merkel, who stepped down as German chancellor in 2021, was an enthusiastic backer as it promised to supply cheap fuel to 26 million German homes. But she admitted in 2018 it could not be viewed as an “just economic project” but was also a political one that threatened the integrity of Ukraine by bypassing it as a transit country.
Longstanding fears that it could give Vladimir Putin more leverage over Germany and other European countries have been amplified significantly by the Ukraine standoff.
The pipeline’s construction was completed in September but its owner, the Russian gas company Gazprom, is waiting for final legal permission from German regulators to open the valves and send gas westwards.