The High Representative of the European Union, Josep Borrel, begins Thursday, February 4, a two-day visit to Russia. In the midst of a legal and political crisis linked to the treatment of Alexey Navalny and his supporters, he wants to convince Moscow to release the political opponent and to stop the brutal repression of the protests.
To exert pressure, the European diplomat could rely on the dossier of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline of approximately 1,200 kilometers, a project worth 10 billion euros. These pipes under the Baltic Sea should allow gas to pass directly from Russia to Germany. Complementing the Nord Stream 1, in place for ten years, this gas pipeline must double the Russian gas delivery capacities to Europe, where demand is ever stronger.
The pipeline is 95% complete, but is behind schedule as work has been suspended for over a year. Firstly because of the American sanctions against the companies involved in the gas pipeline, in particular the giant Gazprom. Then because several European countries worried about becoming too dependent on Russia have multiplied the remedies.
Some states are now proposing to stop everything. This is the position of the United States, the European Parliament, and France. Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs, sees it as the best way to put pressure on Moscow after the unacceptable repression of demonstrations in recent weeks.
After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny last year, sanctions had already been taken against Russian officials: freezing their European assets, revocations of visas. But these measures had only had a very limited impact.
On the contrary, putting the Nord Stream 2 project on hold would be much more effective in putting pressure on Vladimir Putin: the place occupied by energy exports in the Russian economy is central. France is all the better placed to take the lead in the rebellion as France imports very little Russian gas, most of it coming from Norway.
But not all Europeans are in tune. The differences are particularly strong with Germany, the first concerned. Across the Rhine, we only want to consider this project from an economic angle, and especially not geopolitical. It must be said that of the 27 Germany is the largest importer of Russian gas. With the shutdown of nuclear power scheduled for 2022, and the exit from coal in 2038, the country has a vital need for this gas, and wants to secure its supply.
A few days ago, Angela Merkel, who always wanted to leave the lines of communication with the Kremlin open, reiterated her attachment to Nord Stream 2. But the subject is more and more debated: a few months before the elections, the Greens demand the suspension of the gas pipeline. The Grünen could very well become the CDU’s next partner in government. Their voice is therefore important. The Chancellor risks finding herself isolated, both domestically and on the European scene.