Nord Stream 2: If You Cannot Beat Them, Join Them

Joseph Vernet: Construction of a Large Road // Public domain

For years, there have been few issues in Poland on which all major parties have been in agreement. One of them is Nord Stream 2. Successive governments have tried to stop the construction of the gas pipeline and none has succeeded. Instead of wringing hands, getting offended at the whole world and threatening to break alliances, it is essential to draw conclusions from this defeat. Let’s start with a few obvious ones.

Firstly, Nord Stream 2 is a project that is harmful and dangerous to European energy solidarity and to the security of Eastern Europe, and, above all, to Ukraine, which is not anchored in NATO or in the European Union. The possibility of “bypassing” Ukraine in gas supplies to Europe gives Vladimir Putin a tool to put pressure on the government in Kiev.

The further Ukraine is from Europe and the closer to Russia, the worse for Poland. We already have a politician in Minsk who is completely discredited and dependent on Putin. Everything should be done to prevent Ukraine from falling back into the Kremlin’s orbit, especially after the revolution in Kiev’s Maidan led by the European Union.

Secondly, the fate of Nord Stream 2 has, unfortunately, been decided for a long time, regardless of Washington’s actions. Angela Merkel’s government consistently pushed for its completion, despite pressure from other partners, including EU institutions. Construction continued also throughout Donald Trump’s presidency despite sanctions imposed on companies involved in the work.

Thirdly, Washington’s recent agreement with Berlin on Ukraine’s security guarantees, financial assistance, and support in energy negotiations with Moscow, is worth as much as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed the inviolability of Ukraine’s borders in exchange for its surrender of nuclear warheads. The provisions are general and there are no strict mechanisms to enforce them.

Fourthly, the United States did not want to harm Poland or Ukraine when it waived sanctions on companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2. They were guided by their own global interests, including full concentration on competition with China and “shortening the front”, i.e. extinguishing disputes in other regions. Joe Biden’s decision is understandable from this point of view. Nevertheless, it does not mean that it is good.

However, it reminds that Americans look at their plans on a global scale. Poland’s opinion is not a decisive factor. The ruling party should think that it is not wise to put all their eggs in one basket, meaning that it is not wise to count unconditionally on a distant ally.

What Conclusions Can Be Drawn From All This? What Mistakes Were Made By Successive Polish Governments?

The first mistake was the decision of The Democratic Left Alliance government in 2003. It agreed to delete from the Yamal Contract the provision on the construction of the second line of the Yamal Pipeline. Had this line been constructed, the construction of Nord Stream 2 would have been even less profitable for the Russians.

Its profitability is already doubtful. Having invested billions of dollars, the Russians now have at their disposal gas pipelines capable of transporting much more gas than they are able to export.

The second mistake was made by the first government of the Law and Justice party of 2005-07. It chose not to join the project when it became clear that we could not stop it.

Back in 2015, I pointed out that we could have gotten a pipeline spur across our territory. However, the official who hinted about it was brutally removed. Of course, an agreement with Russia and Germany would not have been a fully satisfactory solution as it would have legitimized a project we opposed. Nevertheless, Poland could have obtained real concessions in return. Today they are left with nothing.

Finally, the third decision that contributed to the construction of Nord Stream 2 was made by the Civic Platform and Polish People’s Party government after the issue of building a connector between the Yamal and Druzhba pipelines – the so-called Pieremychka, which would run south through Polish territory bypassing Ukraine – resurfaced in 2013. Poland refused, arguing that it would strike Ukraine’s interests.

But again, their solidarity did not translate into any benefits because, as a result of Germany’s decision, Nord Stream 2 is completed, Ukraine’s security will suffer anyway, and Poland will gain nothing. Moreover, I get the impression that Kiev is unaware that the Polish government, in the name of loyalty to an ally, has given up the opportunity to pursue its interests.

What to Do Now?

Firstly, Germany’s decision lowers its credibility in discussions about European energy solidarity. This should be borne in mind when the Polish authorities take strategic decisions when, for example, deciding to build a nuclear power plant.

Secondly, it is visible that a policy of moral blackmail and absolute loyalty to the allies – in this case Ukraine – does not always produce positive results. Perhaps sometimes it is wiser to follow the old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Thirdly, Poles must be aware that they cannot always rely absolutely on the alliance with Washington. As the weaker partner in this relationship – demographically, militarily, economically, etc. – Poland should seek a European insurance policy and work to strengthen its voice. This can be done by conducting an active foreign policy, building regional alliances, and coming up with their own initiatives.

However, the United Right is not taking such actions. In case of Nord Stream 2, no attempt was made to convince the Democrats before they won the election. Moreover, no coalition was formed to try to influence the U.S.A and Germany. I am not saying that such a coalition would have succeeded but the important point is that a real attempt was not even made.

And it is hardly surprising because the Polish Government is moving towards more and more isolation, which can be seen in the pro-government media. It adds more countries and institutions to the list of Poland’s enemies: Germany, the European Commission, the EU Court of Justice, the United States, France, Pope Francis, the Czech Republic…

Poles have been driven by this government into a whole series of unnecessary conflicts. Conflicts that, so far, have not brought them any benefits, that threaten them with real losses – such as freezing EU money – and from which the government has no exit plan. For it is difficult to consider signing joint declarations with anti-EU and pro-Russian parties of the extreme right as a “way out”.

I would like to suggest something to the politicians of the Law and Justice party and to the employees of the Law and Justice media because I know that they read my texts regularly: the world will not change just because TVP INFO (media subservient to the Law and Justice) announce it. To defend Polish interests you need a plan, foreign partners and real tools in the form of well-prepared people and institutions. The government of the United Right has nothing from this list at its disposal.

Meanwhile, the Nord Stream 2 case teaches us something else – foreign policy can be mocked as an insignificant game of diplomacy. There comes a point, however, when the consequences of ill-considered diplomatic action become apparent to all. That is the moment Poles are at. The policy of moral blackmail, wishful thinking and propaganda in the name of “not giving up a single button” has just suffered another spectacular defeat.

We can learn from it or we can get ourselves into another one.

The article was originally published in Polish at:

Translated by Natalia Banas

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