Recently, the Danish Energy Agency has agreed to install the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the Danish continental shelf of the Baltic Sea. The last obstacle removed, and Russia plans to complete the project soon.
Despite all efforts made by the U.S. and a number of European countries, next year Russia can receive an unprecedented instrument of pressure on Europe, which can be used not only to intensify a hybrid war, but also to open the way to a full-scale European military conflict that can affect not only Ukraine, but also those countries in Eastern Europe that are NATO members. In fact, the completion of the Nord Stream 2 is the biggest security challenge in Europe since the 1960s and puts the world at risk of a new global conflict.
This is by no means an exaggeration. All Russian gas pipelines that were built and are being built in recent years, including Nord Stream 2, have no economic sense. Thanks to these gas pipelines, Russia does not increase the volume of gas it supplies to the EU but reduces the use of existing gas pipelines passing through the territories of such European countries as Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, and Croatia. Using new gas pipelines, Russia is able to move to economic pressure on these countries without worrying more about dependence on gas transit through their territories. The very opportunity to exert this economic pressure and stop gas supplies to the above countries was the real purpose of the Nord Stream-2 and other bypass pipelines.
Economic coercion is an inherent part of modern hybrid warfare, and the Russian Federation reached unsurpassed skill in its application. Gazprom, the largest gas supplier in Europe, controlled by the Russian government, is the flagship among the economic means used by the Russian Federation to achieve its geopolitical goals, including election interference and regime changes in Eastern and Central European countries. Since 1991, Russia has had nearly 60 major gas conflicts with other nations. Only 11 of them had no explicit political component. In 40 cases, Russia has imposed a suspension of gas supplies to other countries.
In addition to the above countries, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia were also victims of the Russian gas war. Russia used different forms of gas blackmail for each of these countries. In the case of Georgia, Russia even resorted to direct military aggression in 2008. One of the motives behind this aggression was to counteract the completion of the Nabucco gas pipeline, which would reduce the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas. The object of direct Russian attacks during the Russo-Georgian war was also the BTC oil pipeline, which also reduced European dependence on Russian oil.
As we can see, in its energy policy Russia is not limited to hybrid methods but is able to move to full-scale military interventions. From this point of view, it is important to realize that Russia’s current dependence on gas transit through the territories of the aforementioned countries of Eastern and Central Europe restrains Russia not only from the energy blackmail of these countries but also from military aggression against them. Obviously, such aggression against these countries is impossible, first of all, due to the inevitable cessation of Russian gas supplies to Western Europe in such a case. After starting the Nord Stream 2, Russia gets rid of these limitations and will certainly move to a more aggressive policy towards the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, including those countries that are already members of NATO. Such an aggressive policy may involve not only economic coercion but also provocation of military conflicts both through the use of proxies and with the direct involvement of Russian regular troops. Thus, refusing to start this pipeline is not only a defense of the economic interests of these countries but also of their territorial integrity.
It is worth noting that the possibilities for stopping this project have not yet been exhausted and should be used in the near future. For example, the route provided by Denmark for laying the last section of the pipeline runs through the territory where, during the Second World War, a huge number of chemical weapons sank. This fact is a threat to environmental security for all the Baltic Sea countries and could be used to challenge Denmark’s permit for the completion of the Nord Stream 2.
Oleksandr Danylyuk, chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Defense reforms, is a senior fellow in the Potomac Foundation, a former chief adviser to Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, a member of Ukrainian government inter-agency platform for countering hybrid threats and one of the leaders of Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity.