How Nord Stream Pipelines Helped Russia in Invading Ukraine

On the afternoon of Sept 26, the operators of the Nord Stream pipeline noticed a significant fall in pressure in the pipelines. Norway and Denmark reported four leaks in the pipeline near the island of Bornholm. Seismologists also reported explosions under the sea in the same area; the European Commission head Ursula Von der Leyen said the Pipelines were probably sabotaged.

On Sept. 27, the operator of Nord Stream pipeline 1 reported that the pipeline had suffered damage and would need to replace the damaged part, which would take months.

The pipeline stretches from the Russian coast to the North Eastern part of Germany through the Baltic Sea. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline consists of two parallel branches, A and B; it is reported that these pipelines were not transporting gas during the damage; however, they contained some gas that started leaking after the damage.

There are two pipelines in this series Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, the former started in 2011, and the latter is yet to start. The pipelines had been a concerning issue to the US from its starting. In 2019, Donald Trump, the then President of the US, also put sanctions against firms that were helping the Russian company Gazprom to build Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The major concern of Donald Trump was that The pipeline would strategically benefit Russia against the European Union and would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.

Trump’s prediction became true when Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb 2022, starting the biggest war in Europe since World War 2. Just after this invasion, the European countries and the US reacted against Russia with sanctions and criticism. The Western nations started limiting Russia’s access to money with financial sanctions. For example, major Russian banks were removed from the international financial messaging system SWIFT. UK excluded Russia from the UK financial system and froze Russian banks’ assets.

The European Union has decided to ban Russian oil imported through the sea from December 2022. Germany has also frozen its plans to open Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The EU and G7 are also planning to cap the price of Russian oil. However, Europe is heavily dependent on Russian gas and has yet to put complete sanctions on Russian oil and gas. It will be very tough to Impose sanctions on Russian gas because the EU relies on it for about 40% of its gas needs.

Throughout the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been using the Nord Stream pipeline as a strategic reply against European sanctions. After the sanctions, Russia reduced the gas supply through the pipelines to only 20% of its capacity and occasionally halted total supplies. When asked about the supply cutoffs, the Kremlin replied, “The Western sanctions are creating problems in the maintenance and supply of Gas, and it will be resumed only after the complete removal of these sanctions.”

The pipelines were not just helping Russia strategically but also financially. Even after the sanctions, The rise in the price of fossil fuels due to these sanctions helped  Russia make 158 billion Euros from its oil and gas exports, and the European Union is its most important customer in this business. Also, in the first half of this year, European Union was the largest importer of Russian fossil fuels. Germany is the number one importer in the EU, followed by Netherlands and Italy.

Despite the sanctions, Russia has skillfully managed to collect around 43 billion euros from taxes and customs duties on fossil fuel products.

From these points, it can be easily concluded that the Western sanctions, instead of demolishing the Economy of Russia, have jointly helped fund the War against Ukraine. Russia has successfully used Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels for its advantage, and Nord stream pipelines have played a significant role in this. Although Western countries are trying to reduce this dependence and thinking of purchasing gas and oil from the US, it will eventually burden the European economy.

[Inauguration of Nord Stream by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medved. Photo: Presidential Press and Information Office, Russia]

*Abhishek Kumar holds a Postgraduate degree in International relations and area studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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