Neighbours

“We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbour.” The words of G. K. Chesterton which, from a historical perspective, Poland has had plenty of occasions to rue, being blessed – God has a cruel sense of humour – with two particularly troublesome neighbours. And, it appears, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, they are up to it again this time, thankfully, the bone of contention being a gas pipeline rather than military action.

Thus, when Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz met US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Monday, the controversial gas link between Russia and Germany was reportedly one of the topics for discussion. Other topics reportedly included the presence of US troops in Poland, policy on Iran, and Poland’s anti-defamation law.

After his visit to the State Department, Czaputowicz said that Poland and the United States had similar views on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which both have criticised, as have the Baltic states and Ukraine. Czaputowicz said that he hoped that diplomatic pressure from the United States would cause European companies to withdraw from the project. In March, a spokeswoman for the US State Department said that the US government was opposed to the project since it would undermine Europe’s energy security and stability.

Heather Nauert said that companies engaged in the construction and financing of the pipeline could expose themselves to sanctions under the US federal law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The US is concerned that that the project, which would carry gas from Russia to Germany bypassing Poland and other countries in the region, would provide Russia with another tool to put pressure on other European countries, especially Ukraine. “We’ve seen that – what Russia has done in the past, when they’ve turned off the pipeline in the middle of winter, causing some families to not have heat … and we think that that is simply wrong,” she said.

Indeed, Kurt Volker, the US special representative for Ukraine, has reportedly said that while no decision has yet been taken, there is a continuing debate in the United States on whether sanctions should be imposed. Volker was quoted as saying that the potential sanctions would hit companies working with Russians and thus adding to Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy.

According to wpolityce.pl, CAATSA could affect five European energy companies – ENGIE, OMV, Royal Dutch Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall, which have agreed to lend Russian energy company Gazprom USD 950 million for the construction of Nord Stream 2, with the repayment period extended until 2035. If built (and construction has reportedly begun) the 1,200 km undersea pipeline, which is scheduled for completion in 2019, will supply aproximately 55 billion cubic metres of natural gas per annum from Russia to Germany. Finland and Germany have approved the passing of the pipeline through their territorial waters, but other, including Denmark and Sweden, have yet to do so

In an article posted on the politico.eu website Poland’s deputy foreign minister Konrad, Szymański said that the planned gas link “is a bad deal for the European Union and a bad deal for Ukraine, and it should not go ahead.” Once the pipeline goes online in 2019 Gazprom “has the technical capacity to serve its Western European customers without the Ukrainian transmission system, any deal of the sort will be based solely on Russia’s good will, which is hardly an ironclad guarantee,” Szymański said. He added that supporting Ukrainian independence and maintaining the Ukrainian gas transit route after 2019 is crucial to the stability of Europe.

Cutting off the Ukrainian transit route would deal a harsh blow to the Ukrainian budget and, even more importantly, Kiev’s geopolitical situation would become much more vulnerable, according to Szymański. “Even if the pipeline would appear to benefit Germany and Russia in the short term, Europe as a whole will eventually lose, and the ultimate winner will turn out to be Russia,” he wrote in his article.

On the one hand the objection seems to that Nord Stream 2 will help Russia to sell more gas without the by-passed countries gaining economically, on the other that Germany will receive a better deal and is thus hardly being a good neighbour.  If, as the objectors suggest, gas supplies from Russia are ultimately at the whim of brother Putin, then Germany may not have got such a good deal after all, although perhaps he has less interest in upsetting mutti Merkel, than in irritating everybody else.  After all, there’s nothing worse than being ignored when you want a fight with the neighbours.

 

 

 

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