A specter is haunting Europe — the specter of Russian natural gas.
Rather than defending itself, the European Union is welcoming this specter with open arms, apparently oblivious to its consequences, not only for its energy sovereignty and security, but for its defense and national security, as well.
How has this happened? The E.U., led by Germany, reduced its reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear power, citing environmental concerns. In so doing, Europe divorced climate talks from security considerations and chose increased dependence on Russia to meet its energy needs.
The European Union has effectively relinquished energy sovereignty and embraced the construction of a new pipeline, dubbed Nord Stream 2, which would double supplies of Russian natural gas to Europe. Far from being a boon, this will have baleful consequences for the continent, the security of NATO, and indeed for the Atlantic alliance as a whole. Europeans and Americans alike should be alarmed.
Nord Stream 2 will deepen the E.U.’s already considerable dependence on Russian natural gas, making the continent even more susceptible to Russian political pressure and blackmail. It would give Russia a potent new weapon with which to pit E.U. members against one another, and the E.U. against the United States. Russian dominance of Europe’s energy market will leave NATO logistics vulnerable — after all, military equipment needs fuel, too.
To understand why this is so, just take a look at the European energy landscape. The E.U. currently relies on Russia for 40 percent of its natural gas needs. Some of that gas flows west by land, most notably through Ukraine. Some is supplied via the 1,222-kilometer Nord Stream pipeline, which traverses the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.
Europe’s dependence on Russian gas will only grow as production at home declines and the E.U. cuts down on the use of coal and nuclear power. According to estimates by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, Germany will buy 80 percent of its gas from Russia after Nord Stream 2 comes online in 2020, up from 55 percent in 2016.
Why does this matter? If Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly, operated on normal commercial principles, it wouldn’t. But Gazprom is no ordinary company.
It is majority-owned by the Russian government, which uses it as an instrument of state policy. As the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas, Russia uses these fuels as weapons in its quest to reclaim great-power status, reassert dominion over its former subject nations, and divide its adversaries.
Consider just two examples among many. In early 2014, Gazprom raised the price of gas it supplied to Ukraine by 80 percent over the course of a few weeks. It was no coincidence that the increases closely followed Russia’s invasion of the Crimea. Earlier, in 1990, shortly before its dissolution, the USSR cut off supplies of oil to the Baltic States in an unsuccessful bid to thwart their drive for independence.
Not only will Nord Stream 2 increase the risk of this type of blackmail, it will have particularly pernicious consequences for the unity of the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance. Why? Because the pipeline will allow Russia to supply more gas directly to Western Europe, bypassing my home country of Poland and other states of East Central Europe, which belong to the E.U. and NATO.
Russia will thus be able to pit E.U. members against one another, cutting off or limiting supplies to one group while maintaining them to the other. NATO’s effectiveness — and Europe’s security — may be threatened.
Even now, Poland pays considerably more for Russian natural gas than does Germany. And while Germany and other Western European customers are attracted by the current, relatively low price Russia charges them, that bargain may not last. Once Western Europe is hooked on Russian gas, it will be vulnerable to arbitrary price increases — just ask Ukraine.
Unlike the European Union, the United States recognizes the security threat posed by Nord Stream 2. In December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution opposing the pipeline on the grounds that it would increase Moscow’s control over European energy supplies.
There are important environmental considerations, as well, contrary to the claims made by the proponents of Nord Stream 2. Russian gas production is notorious for its high emissions of methane, the most potent greenhouse gas. By contrast, U.S. shale gas production is subject to much stricter environmental standards.
Fortunately, Europe is not condemned to reliance on Nord Stream 2. One important alternative is the Baltic Pipeline, which will cross Denmark to link Norway’s massive offshore gas fields with Poland and is scheduled for completion in 2022. The Baltic Pipeline will free Poland from dependence on gas imported from Russia.
Another alternative is liquefied natural gas from the United States, Qatar and other reliable suppliers. Poland has already signed a long-term contract for deliveries of LNG from the United States.
Poland and Lithuania currently have Europe’s only LNG terminals, but others could be built.
This year marked two important milestones for Poland. We hosted the COP24 climate conference, where we highlighted the importance of sovereign energy, and we celebrated the 100th anniversary of our national rebirth following more than a century of occupation by foreign powers. These two events offered a stark reminder that for Poland, and for all of Europe, national security and energy security are inextricably linked: Without sovereignty, we have no freedom to determine our future, which includes our ability to care for the environment.
Poland is blazing a path toward energy security. Europe should do the same — and reject dependence on Russian gas, with all the dangers it brings.
Anna Maria Anders is a Polish senator and Secretary of State.
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