Russia wants to again use gas for political purposes and force Ukraine to make concessions in turn for maintaining gas transit across its territory, even if Nord Stream 2 is completed. The outline of the deal is now emerging before the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. In this game Poland may become the guardian of the EU energy security – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, editor in chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
Pushing for a Nord Stream 2 deal
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, announced during the International Economic Forum in Petersburg that Ukraine had to “show good will” if it wanted to maintain Russian gas transit across its territory. It was his way of commenting on Kiev’s concerns about the fact that launching the contentious Nord Stream 2 would undermine gas transit from Russia, which is a source in considerable revenue. Rainer Seele the CEO of Austria’s OMV, which is financially engaged in Nord Stream 2, argued on the Russia 1 channel that Ukraine could convince Gazprom to keep sending gas via its territory. “An attractive offer should be made. If you offer good terms, Gazprom will definetely consider them,” he said. Whereas the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quoted Steffen Seibertath, spokesman of the German government, who claimed that “the most important thing for the German government is for Ukraine to remain a transit country, even after Nord Stream 2 is launched”. In theory, this solution is guaranteed by the temporary agreement between the European Commission, Ukraine and Russia on maintaining gas transit via Ukraine signed in late 2019. The deal is binding until 2024 and was negotiated with the participation of Germany. President Putin’s words uttered in Petersburg are important in this context. He announced there that the construction of the first out of two lines of the contentious pipeline has been completed. However, in reality the Danish and German sections need to be welded together in the next two weeks. Putin stated that the first line could start delivering gas in 10 days. Earlier Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak was more conservative about the entire project, and assessed it could be completed by the end of 2021, two years after the original deadline.
What may the Nord Stream 2 deal include?
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung suggested the temporary agreement on gas transit via Ukraine could be extended beyond 2024. If Ukraine does offer Russia a good transit deal, which is possible as it already offers discounted prices to providers from the European Union that use its infrastructure, including Poland’s PGNiG, such a scenario could take place. In such a case one could imagine that Russia would only use the pipeline’s first line (half of the 55 bcm capacity), leaving the other one free, provided it is finished, which is still up in the air, to offer supply to third parties in line with the regulations of the third energy package imposed by the revised gas directive of the European Union. This would be similar to the solution applied to Nord Stream 1 and its German leg called OPAL. If Germany doesn’t introduce a moratorium on the construction of Nord Stream 2, the parties will have to discuss the so-called shut down mechanism, which would make transit via this pipeline dependent on Russia’s conduct. One could imagine that the supply via Nord Stream 2 could be linked to a transit contract with Kiev, to allow the western clients to decide about their route. Whereas Germany could invest in natural gas and hydrogen transmission infrastructure in Ukraine to calm down Kiev. That’s when Ukraine’s idea to establish a consortium to manage its transmission network by taking over shares in the OGTSUA TSO, first formulated in the first decade of the 21st century, could reemerge. At this point Ukraine’s constitution excludes the possibility of Gazprom owning those shares, but such a variant could come into play if Kiev is pressured by Russia and its western partners that have already generally agreed on the Nord Stream 2 deal. However, the belarussisation of gas pipelines in Ukraine should be avoided. Due to its debts Belarus sold Russia’s Gazprom its gas pipelines in 2011, and consequently its gas policy lost its sovereignty. By the way, it should be said that a possible failure of the talks in Geneva could still lead to the introduction of the suspended US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 operator and its CEO Matthias Warning. The sanctions that make certification and insurance of a ready gas pipeline impossible are still in force. Only after Americans reverse them, will it be possible to supply gas via Nord Stream 2.
What role could Poland play?
Poles could play an active role in the face of a potential deal on Nord Stream 2.
First, Poland should strive to make this dispute a European problem and make sure the European Commission plays the crucial role in the talks to decrease the impact of the visible concert of powers on the final shape of the deal. The most important element of these endeavors is to transfer the leading role in these talks from Berlin to Brussels, which would go in line with the idea of the joint climate and energy policy.
Second, Poles should include in the talks the issue of natural gas and hydrogen security in case Nord Stream 2 was to become a tool of russification of the EU climate policy. The supply of fuels via the contentious gas pipeline should be curbed by the priorities of the Union’s diversification policy and the by levy on products depending on GHG emissions with the usage of such mechanisms as CBAM.
Third, Poland should to the very end pursue a moratorium on the construction of Nord Stream 2 until the talks on the deal are over, to take the pressure off of the European negotiations, especially Ukraine.
Fourth, Poles should demand that the European Union take political responsibility and Germany business responsibility for the stability of gas transit via Ukraine, and then join the engagement in Ukraine’s gas sector in a way that will ensure fruitful cooperation, which had been already started by Poland’s PGNiG.
Fifth, they should take care of the bilateral context of the Nord Stream 2 talks and demand that Germany make concessions on the joint energy and climate policy in turn for the engagement in the deal on the contentious pipeline. For instance, Germany could show good will by supporting Polish projects, e.g. by agreeing to EU financing for new gas investments, or withdrawing their objection to the construction of nuclear power plants in Poland, or by engaging in such projects.