Tobias Schwarz / REUTERS Building a pipe for Nord Stream in Sassnitz, Germany, May 2016.

The Trouble With Nord Stream 2

How the Pipeline Would Benefit Russia at the EU’s Expense

In 2005, the state-owned Russian energy company Gazprom and several European firms agreed to create Nord Stream AG, a consortium that would oversee the construction of the world’s longest undersea natural gas pipeline. German and Russian leaders noted that the pipeline, connecting the Russian city of Vyborg to Greifswald, would let Gazprom serve gas markets in northwestern Europe directly through Germany. With Germany as a major energy transit hub, the EU could then protect its gas supplies if conflicts between Russia and Ukraine were to disrupt the flows from the pipelines to the south.

Polish officials felt differently. Radek Sikorski, then foreign minister, compared the arrangement to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, the non-aggression deal between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union that led eventually to the joint invasion of Poland. Warsaw regarded Nord Stream, as the pipeline is known, as a geopolitical risk that would increase the influence of Moscow and Berlin over its own domestic gas supply.

At the time, EU officials dismissed Sikorski’s comparison as an exaggeration. Over the three years since Russia annexed Crimea and began its war in eastern Ukraine, however, his warnings have seemed increasingly prescient. To be sure, Nord Stream will not lead to a Russian-German invasion of Poland—but the pipeline, which was first used in 2011, has brought Berlin and Moscow closer together in a way that has left some Central and Eastern European states, including Poland and Slovakia, more vulnerable to Russian arm-twisting. 

An expansion of the project, called Nord Stream 2, is on track to be completed by 2019, renewing the urgency of these concerns. At an estimated cost of $11.8 billion, Nord Stream 2 would add two more gas pipelines to the two already in place, doubling the project’s capacity and deepening the reliance of central, southern, and eastern European states on Russian gas. Although the project would alleviate gas shortages in some of those countries, the added capacity would weaken the position of Ukraine—through which a number of large

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