Nord Stream 2
Enlightened public in Russia and abroad have been heatedly discussing how skillfully the young, European Macron questioned Putin in Versailles, and await the forthcoming fall of the Putin regime under the burden of western sanctions. Many less enlightened Russians are sure that their country has come to a new, deadly confrontation with the West and are doomed to gaze at state bulldozers squashing “subversive” cheeses and tomatoes. Both are in error, as I recently came to understand. Almost unnoticed beneath the noise of verbal sparring, public hearings quietly and peacefully proceed in Europe on a project that will prolong the life of the Putin regime for another 50 years.
This project is Nord Stream 2, which involves the delivery of gas directly from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. It should be noted that in 2016, despite terrible, burdensome sanctions, Gazprom’s share of European gas consumption reached a record level of 34%. One could agree that Europe took an astonishing position: not holding back on words fighting the Putin regime but at the same time inflating this regime with gas money.
A slide from a presentation on the Nord Stream 2 project, according to the developers, laying the pipeline on the bed of the Baltic Sea is the “optimal option.”
On April 24, I participated in a public hearing on this project at the Estonian Ministry of the Environment. I was cautious at the hearing; in my past life, I was often barred from public hearings in Khimki because I didn’t have a treasured Khimki residence permit. And here I was, finding my way into European hearings with my Russian citizenship. But the hearing turned out to be truly “public” – no one was interested in the color of my passport and residence permit, and I calmly entered the territory of the Estonian Ministry.
The representatives of Nord Stream 2 AG, the company implementing the Nord Stream 2 project, were prepared for glory at the hearing: they put on solid suits, tied their ties, and in impeccable English spoke about how cool it is to buy gas from Gazprom, threatening that by 2030, the supply of gas will significantly increase.
Slide from Nord Stream AG’s presentation. The green indicates the supply of gas from Russia.
During the two-hour-long presentation, with a bunch of touching photos of seals and fish, we listened to how beautiful and safe this project, in which five European companies are involved, is for Europe, but yet, for some mysterious reason, 100% of the shares belong to Gazprom.
After Nord Stream AG’s presentation, it was time for questions. I had the unique opportunity to add a generous spoonful of tar, in the form of truth, to the Nord Stream 2 gas idyll.
These points describe my speech and the reactions of the Nord Stream AG representatives:
1. First of all, Nord Stream 2 was realized AFTER the annexation of Crimea by Putin’s Russia, the war against Ukraine, and the Boeing disaster. This project involves an increase of gas supply to Germany. Of course, European consumers will pay for the gas, and the money will go to the Putin regime, strengthening it. We have already seen that Putin’s Russia conducts itself in a criminal manner, and, what is especially unpleasant, unpredictably. There is a high probability that, as usual, the Kremlin will spend the money from these gas proceeds on propaganda, repression, new wars, and annexations. Probably, is it not right, that enlightened Europe will in fact be paying real money for all of this?
Having heard this argument, the Nord Stream AG representative explained that this is all “political speculation, we have already been working with Gazprom for 19 years and are going to continue mutually beneficial cooperation.” Here you have it, everything you need to know about countering the Putin regime in Europe…
2. It is curious, that a highly interesting man, Matthias Warnig, is managing Nord Stream AG. He is a former Stasi member who suddenly became a banker after privatization, which is what he was up to in the GDR. Mister Matthias is friends with Putin, and this probably explains why he is on the supervisory board of Vneshtorgbank and is also the deputy chair of the board of directors of Rosneft.
At the hearing, when I voiced to the Nord Stream 2 representatives this information about their boss, they answered that in their company it is generally not customary to look up biographies and this they really do not know who has worked where previously. It would be interesting to know what kind of personnel policy Nord Stream 2 has, and how they hire employees at all, if they’re not interested in their biographies?
3. A representative of Nord Stream 2 spoke beautifully and at length about the project’s benefits for the European Union, but what is surprising is that the company’s headquarters are located in Switzerland, which, as we know, is not part of the European Union. Therefore, the company is not in a hurry to pay taxes to the EU, despite its verbal reassurances of love. To the direct question of why were the headquarters not organized in the EU, but in Switzerland, Simon Bonnell, with the mysterious position of Head of Permitting in Nord Stream AG, frankly confessed: “it’s so convenient for us!”
In general, Nord Stream 2 projects participants are extremely ingenious when it comes to matters of taxation. For example, one of the project participants, Shell, recently demanded tax benefits in Russia, at the same time as gas is at a low cost.
4. The Nord Stream 2 project is being implemented after the Paris climate summit, where practically all countries seemed to recognize the dangers of fossil fuels. Many beautiful words were spoken about the development of “green energy” and plans to abandon fossil fuels in the next couple of decades. And suddenly – here is a project that plans to significantly increase the supply of a fuel that is dangerous for the climate to Europe by 2030.
To this objection, Nord Stream AG turned the fool and explained that this project isn’t dangerous for the climate, since gas is not as bad as coal. The objection is from the series “we wanted to leave five whole rooms!” [translator: this quote is a reference to Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog and is an example of absurd negotiation and justification]
Well, if everything is clear with Nord Stream AG, which is managed by Putin’s friend, then the position of the German authorities, to put it mildly, is strange.
How one can make loud statements about the transition to renewable, politically- and environmentally-safe green energy at one and the same time as permitting Gazprom to buy out all of one’s gas transportation capacity, and not object to the project, which assumes a significant increase in the volume of gas purchases from Putin’s Russia, is hard to understand.
5. The Nord Stream 2 project hasn’t yet begun, but it has already brought problems. And guess to which country? That’s right, Russia! The fact is that within Russian territory, it was decided to run the pipeline through Kurgalskii refuge. This decision contradicts Russian laws since Kurgalskii refuge is a special nature zone with rare species: eagles, ringed seals, and many others, which are, naturally, protected by Russian laws and are listed in the Red Book [translator: list of threatened and endangered species] at various levels.
Russian authorities have initiated the process of altering the boundaries of Kurgalskii refuge in order to foist the gas pipeline into it, bypassing the laws of Russia. Surveying work even began in the refuge’s territory without any permits, and this is absolutely illegal. After ecologists protested, work ceased.
Unfortunately, in the case of the Nord Stream 2 project, we are observing how double standards work. On German territory, if there is to be a pipeline through a natural area (as far as I know, even if it does not have specially protected status), it is built in a tunnel, but on Russian territory, it was decided that the most dangerous and harmful option for the refuge would be chosen, the option that is cheap for Nord Stream 2.
Of course, Nord Stream 2 is a sad tale of hypocrisy and double standards. When people with an excellent European education, in expensive suits, with impeccable English, who know everything about ecology, human rights, and the consequences of collaboration with savage regimes, happily profit, then they readily sniff at European values and don’t pinch their noses at fully cooperating with those, about whom it has long been unacceptable to speak well of in decent society.
But there is hope of stopping this project, which is dangerous on all counts.
Now, the stage of ecological expert evaluation is underway, while the Kurgalskii refuge is under the knife in favor of this gas project, but it is still possible to stop. I really hope that ecological expertise in Europe, unlike in Russia, is real.
Kurgalsky Refuge, photo Activatica
There is one encouraging sign – the day after the public hearing in Estonia, the Ministry of the Environment contacted me with a request to include my report in the record of the hearing. Actually, this is how a Ministry of the Environment and Human Health should work. Unfortunately, in Russia the Ministry of Natural Resources understands its function as exactly the opposite, and it seeks not to protect, but to sell off, the natural resources entrusted to it.
Translated by Lilya Lvovna Moreva. The Russian Version is here
Photo Lord Jim / Flickr