(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Sunday that any renewed aggression by Russian President Vladimir Putin against Ukraine could mean he will not see gas flowing through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
While stopping short of giving an unequivocal commitment to that effect, Blinken said that it was “very unlikely or hard to see” gas flowing through the Russia-to-Germany pipeline if Russia takes renewed military action against Ukraine.
He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Nord Stream 2 was now “a source of leverage on Russia, because to the extent President Putin wants to see gas flowing through that pipeline if and when it becomes operational, it’s very unlikely or hard to see that happening if Russia has renewed its aggression on Ukraine, if it takes renewed action.”
“So I think President Putin has to factor that in too as he’s thinking about what he’s going to do next.”
Blinken was speaking from Liverpool, where G7 foreign ministers on Sunday sent a unified message to Putin, warning of severe economic sanctions – “massive consequences” – in the event Russian troops invade Ukraine.
President Biden says he made the same point to Putin during their video call last Tuesday.
Beyond saying they will be harsher than measures taken against Russia in the past, the administration has not spelled out the consequences. But Nord Stream 2, a strategically important project for Moscow, would be an obvious target.
The pipeline, which will carry Russian natural gas to the European Union via Germany under the Baltic seabed, is complete but awaiting German regulatory approval to begin pumping gas.
Critics worry that it will further deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Putin’s Russia. Also, Ukraine currently earns crucial revenues from E.U.-bound Russian gas transiting its territory through existing pipelines, and the loss of those earnings would heavily impact its economy.
Claiming that it was already too near to completion to stop, the State Department last May waived sanctions against the key players – the Nord Stream 2 AG company and its CEO, a close associate of Putin – arguing that failure to do so would have hurt relations with Germany, an important ally.
The administration than struck an agreement with Angela Merkel’s government which both parties said would mitigate the risks posed to Ukraine by the new pipeline – but critics charged amounted to a green light for the project’s completion.
The recent buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine’s borders has put Nord Stream 2 back in the spotlight, at a time when a political transition in Berlin has introduced a new element – a government in which two of the three coalition parties are skeptical of the pipeline.
Germany’s new foreign minister signaled a tougher stance towards Russia on Sunday, linking the future of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline directly to the security situation in Ukraine.
“In the event of further escalation this gas pipeline could not come into service,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told ZDF, a German television station.
Baerbock is co-leader of the Greens, whose manifesto for the September election called for an end to Nord Stream 2, a project her party opposes both on ecological and human rights/geopolitical grounds.
Another junior coalition member, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), also opposes the pipeline.
New Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats (SPD) is more supportive of the project, however, and the three-party coalition agreement hammered out last month was silent on the issue.
During an inaugural visit to Warsaw on Sunday, Scholz heard a strong message of opposition to Nord Stream 2 from Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who told him that the pipeline will create a difficult situation not only for Ukraine, but also for Poland and other countries in eastern Europe.
“It would be better not to allow the opening of Nord Stream 2,” Morawiecki said during a joint news conference with Scholz, adding that he had drawn his visitor’s attention to the risks involved.
In a warning directed at Russia, Scholz said that “it would be a serious mistake to believe that violating the borders of a European country would remain without consequences.”
However, his public comments about Nord Stream 2 largely echoed those of his predecessor.
Scholz spoke of the importance of ensuring Ukraine’s future as a gas transit route and helping it to develop its renewable energy sector. Those are key elements in the agreement struck between the Biden and Merkel administrations over the summer.
Despite some opposition to the project within her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel argued that Nord Stream 2 was an important economic initiative, and suggested the geopolitical concerns could be managed – a stance that the Biden administration essentially went along with.