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What Merkel Doesn’t Get about Nord Stream 2

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Axel Schmidt/Reuters)

The United States is trying to block Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas and undermine Ukraine’s position in the continent’s energy markets. But the Merkel government, which has fought strenuously to protect the project, thinks that U.S. opposition to Nord Stream 2 is just about its desire to sell Europe more natural gas.

At least, that’s the reasoning that underlies an extraordinary proposal that the German government apparently made to get the Trump administration to drop sanctions. The Financial Times reports:

Germany offered to spend up to €1bn to subsidise the construction of two liquid natural gas terminals capable of receiving US gas exports in exchange for Washington dropping its opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.”

The Trump administration has opted for an aggressive approach that targets any entities involved in the project. So far, this has been successful, preventing a Swiss company involved in the construction from finishing the final portion of Nord Stream 2.

But is the German government right in assuming that the U.S.-led campaign against the pipeline is just about boosting the U.S. natural gas industry?

It’s true that President Trump’s instincts tend toward mercantilism and that killing the pipeline would be a good thing for the American natural gas industry. But when, in his 2017 Warsaw address, he promised to secure alternate sources of energy for Europe “so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy,” he was not merely dressing up economic self-interest in political language. There will be real-world political consequences that follow the completion of Nord Stream 2. And most will be worrying about Poland, Ukraine, and much of Europe.

The Trump administration’s decision to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, predictably, didn’t go over well in Europe, and at the time, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen panned the move. But in the wake of Russia’s poisoning of Alexei Navalny, she’s taking a harder line against it.

Von der Leyen — who served in Merkel’s cabinet for 15 years — took aim at Nord Stream 2 during a landmark speech today:

To those that advocate closer ties with Russia, I say that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny with an advanced chemical agent is not a one off. We have seen the pattern in Georgia and Ukraine, Syria and Salisbury – and in election meddling around the world. This pattern is not changing – and no pipeline will change that.

She grasps what U.S. officials have been saying for years — and what Merkel still seems not to understand: Treating Nord Stream 2 as a business deal, not a political issue, is a gift to the Kremlin.

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