The United States, United Kingdom, Ukraine and several European Union member states have fiercely opposed the pipeline ever since it was first announced in 2015, warning the project would boost Moscow’s influence in Europe.
According to experts, that on its own is a win for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kristine Berzina, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a nonpartisan research center, said Moscow has benefited from the drama around the pipeline. “Everything about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been a victory for Russia,” she told CNN.
For years, both Russia and Germany argued that the pipeline is purely a business enterprise and has nothing to do with politics.
But in central and eastern Europe, where gas supplies from Russia play an essential role in power generation and home heating, few topics are more political than energy security. With natural gas prices already near a record high, many fear further tension could cause more pain to European consumers.
As Russia’s biggest gas customer, Germany had been reluctant to use the pipeline to put pressure on Moscow. Less than two weeks ago, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned against dragging Nord Stream 2 into the conflict.
Yet as tensions built up between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the claim has been quietly dropped by the Germans. Under pressure from the US, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock acknowledged last week the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be included in a package of sanctions against Russia over its involvement in Ukraine.
“Putin wants to see Nord Stream 2. If somehow it’s killed before any potential invasion, he has one less reason not to invade Ukraine,” US Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez said.
Ukraine and other eastern European countries have warned the new pipeline could make the region more vulnerable to Russia’s whims.
Disputes over energy prices have plagued the relationship between Russia and Ukraine ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with Russia cutting its supplies of gas to Ukraine on number of occasions. At the moment, Russia needs Ukraine, because large amount of the gas it sells to Europe still flows to the rest of the continent through Ukraine’s territory.
By bypassing Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 would make it easier for Russia to isolate Ukraine.
The pipeline is especially valuable to Russia, which relies on oil and gas exports for over 40% of its government revenues. If operational, it would deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year directly from Russia to Europe. Gazprom, the Russian state-owned company that owns the pipeline, said its average export price was $280 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas in 2021, which means the new pipeline could be worth more than $15 billion a year.
Gazprom has already invested some $11 billion into the project.
“The West needs every possible form of leverage that it can get to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine,” Berzina said, adding that not sanctioning the pipeline now means it could be used as leverage in the future. “Russia’s ambitions right now are huge and the explicit asks it has made of the West on returning troops to where they were in the early 90s and to close the door on NATO expansion, these are not in line with the West’s values, so the West really can’t give Russia what it wants there.”
Andrey Kortunov, director-general of the Russian International Affairs Council, said Moscow views the Nord Stream project as a test of the EU’s strategic autonomy from the United States.
“If the Nord Stream 2 project goes down the drain, which is possible, it would serve as a confirmation of this perception that Europe is not a reliable partner and you cannot work with the European Union because they cannot agree on anything and they cannot make any decision. So if you want something to be accomplished, you should go to Washington,” he said.
Russia has repeatedly warned the West not to drag Nord Stream 2 into the political crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said attempts to politicize the Nord Stream 2 issue were “counterproductive.”
But while the pipeline is extremely valuable to Putin, it is doubtful whether it could play the decisive role in persuading him to scale back any plans to cross Ukraine’s border.
“If it fails, it will be a big loss for Gazprom and the Russian economy, but it’s not like the Russians will say okay, you can go ahead with the NATO enlargement, but as long as Nord Stream 2 is operational, that’s fine,” Kortunov said.
“The question is what is [Putin’s] ultimate aim? He’s got the money, the currency reserves that Russia has saved, it can afford to lose money right now … is the economic relationship, the pipeline, a cost he’s willing to pay?” Berzina added.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.