The Irish Times view on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline: another betrayal of eastern Europe?

Germany and the US should not be surprised when sanctions sceptics question the consistency of their policy towards Russia

Workers walk at the construction site of the so-called Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Lubmin, northeastern Germany, in March 2019. German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week welcomed a compromise struck with the United States over the controversial Russian gas pipeline project, but said “differences” remained. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images

Workers walk at the construction site of the so-called Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Lubmin, northeastern Germany, in March 2019. German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week welcomed a compromise struck with the United States over the controversial Russian gas pipeline project, but said “differences” remained. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz / AFP via Getty Images

 

Generations of diplomats in central and eastern Europe, when seeing world powers retreat behind closed doors to discuss the future of their nations, have uttered variations on the same phrase: “Nothing about us, without us.” Too often this plea has been ignored – in Munich, in Yalta and in Moscow when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed – and the fate of millions has been sacrificed to the perceived interests of stronger countries.

When the Kremlin launched an undeclared war against Ukraine in 2014, Kiev reminded Russia, the US and Britain that they had pledged to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity when it agreed to abandon its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal. When it mattered, however, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum did nothing to stop Russia occupying Crimea and sending weapons and fighters into eastern Ukraine to start a war.

This week, the US ended its dispute with Berlin over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, giving the green light to a project that central and eastern European states say will allow Moscow to cut their gas supplies and pile pressure on their governments without harming deliveries or relations further west.

Ukraine and its neighbours were not party to the talks, and Washington and Berlin chose political and financial expediency over the interests of their allies in the region: the deal removed a thorn from German-US ties and the threat of sanctions from European firms involved in the project.

Germany has promised to invest in Ukraine’s energy sector, use “all available leverage” to ensure its gas transit deal with Moscow is extended beyond 2024 and to “press for effective measures at the European level” if Russia attempts to “use energy as a weapon”. But few trust such paper promises in Ukraine, where talk of another “betrayal” is in the air. Germany and the US should not be surprised when sanctions sceptics question the consistency of their policy towards Russia, or when Moscow concludes that western self-interest will always trump our readiness to pay a real price in defence of loftier values.

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