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Sergiy Makogon: Nord Stream 1 is Putin’s weapon. We have to disarm him

June 6, 2022 9:16 PM 5 min read
Pipework at the gas receiving station of the halted Nord Stream 2 project, on the site of a former nuclear power plant, in Lubmin, Germany, on April 5, 2022. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
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Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in the op-ed section are those of the authors.

How can we say with confidence that Ukraine is fighting for Europe? Well, there is a simple thought experiment for you.

Would Europe be safer if Ukraine’s bravest sons and daughters weren’t willing to give their lives in a fight against genocidal neo-fascists?

Would the world be safer if the barbarians, who indiscriminately shell civilian targets, who kill, rape, and torture, succeeded in their war of conquest and captured Kyiv in three days, as the Kremlin reportedly wished?

Would we be able to count on peace and prosperity on our continent, if the rules-based international order had collapsed?

Surely, Ukraine is defending its own land, its right to self-determination, and freedom. But make no mistake, Ukraine is fighting for Europe, too, as we hold the frontline where the Free World is threatened by a wanton autocracy. Rusia started this war, but it falls upon all of us, not just Ukraine, to end it.

Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has used energy as a weapon against Europe for a long time. This cannot go on.

Russian artillery is leveling Ukrainian cities, the civilian death toll in Mariupol alone is feared to be in the tenths of thousands. At the same time, the continued Russian gas imports are stabbing us in the back. As long as the diversionary pipelines, like Nord Stream 1 and TurkStream, are kept in operation, Ukraine’s security posture remains much weaker than it could otherwise be.

This is why on May 27, the Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine (GTSOU) and Naftogaz, Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company, submitted requests to the German Government asking for a review of decisions pertaining to Nord Stream 1. We firmly believe that Putin’s favorite pipeline should no longer be delivering gas to Europe, and we demand that it be shut down.  It is painfully obvious that the exemptions granted to Nord Stream have irreparably eroded our shared security in the energy realm and beyond.

Before Feb. 24, Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine was unthinkable. Now we know that it was all but inevitable.

In 2008, Putin invaded Georgia. That was the first omen, but the world, at its peril, gave Moscow the benefit of the doubt. The Kremlin's overt military aggression did not deter Germany from commissioning an energy project, which had one and only purpose – to isolate Ukraine. Everyone knew that Nord Stream was designed to bring the same gas, from the same Siberian fields to the same European customers. In other words, this duplicating pipeline could not be justified commercially. It was the Kremlin’s early preparation for war – diminishing Ukraine’s leverage ahead of the future attack. When Nord Stream 1 was launched in 2012, one third of the gas supplies got instantaneously diverted away from Ukraine.

In 2014, Russia violated the sovereignty of its neighbor again. This time Putin’s revanchist ambitions to redraw borders by force could no longer be ignored. Sanctions were announced by the transatlantic alliance, and, in Ukraine, we suspended direct purchases of gas from Russia (in 2015). Against all odds, we have reformed our gas market and harmonized it fully with the EU regulations.

Ukraine’s successive post-EuroMaidan Revolution governments understood that international gas transit via our territory was a matter of national security. The European political leaders, however, could not, or perhaps chose not to see the direct link between Russia’s belligerence and Gazprom’s ambition to control all transit routes.

We have repeatedly warned Brussels, Berlin, and Washington about the geopolitical risks associated with Russia’s concerted efforts to reduce dependence on Ukraine for transit. Yet, Putin’s gas kept flowing via Nord Stream 1. What’s worse, the Kremlin initiated two more diversionary pipelines (Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream), the combined capacity of which was sufficient to take Ukraine out completely. After the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of a part of the Donbas, our expectation was that Europe would reject them, but that hasn’t happened.

We’ve pleaded with our allies to spare Ukraine’s strongest non-military buffer against Putin’s aggression, to keep Russian gas exports routed via Ukraine. Those calls went unanswered until, finally, on Feb. 22, Germany suspended Nord Stream 2 certification. This was a crucial decision of great symbolic significance but didn’t change the existing gas flows. The second Baltic Sea pipeline was an axe hanging over Ukraine’s head, but thankfully, it was never dropped.

On May 10, Russia’s latest offensive in the Donbas made it impossible for the GTSOU to operate one of the two major entry points into our transit network – Sokhranivka. What happened next, surprised no one. The Kremlin launched a misinformation campaign, refused to reroute gas flows, and blamed Ukraine. To be sure, Russia actually closed the valve on its side of the border. The only party responsible for the interruption of gas flows is Russia.

The map shows two major gas flow entry points from Russia into the transit network of the Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine, Sokhranivka and Sudzha. Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ukraine has been unable to operate the Sokhranivka entry point. (Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine)

At GTSOU, we have demonstrated our reliability as a partner for Europe. For three months and counting, our brave repair crews risk their lives to keep the gas flowing westward despite missile attacks and endless other threats.

Russia sabotaging our transit route is yet another instance of energy blackmail. Putin’s goal has not changed, he wants the gas flows diverted from Ukraine, he wants our security posture weakened and his hands untied.

The EU's decision on a partial oil embargo was announced at the end of May, and it is clear that the phase-out of Russian gas is a harder measure to implement. As the gas flows via the East-West pipelines get gradually reduced, let’s not forget that, unlike Nord Stream 1, our system is for dual use. GTSOU facilitates international transit, but we also use our infrastructure to supply household and industry customers in Ukraine.

How risky would it be for Europe and Germany to withdraw the exemptions that allow Nord Stream 1 to operate?

Senior gas expert of the Energy Community Secretariat, Karolina Chagir, rightfully points out that “abandoning supply via Nord Stream 1 will not jeopardize the security of gas supply. All volumes could be compensated via Ukraine.”

At GTSOU, we do our job – we operate Ukraine's vast gas transmission network the best we can under the circumstances that we’re in. That said, we stand behind President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for a full embargo on Russian energy. Ukraine stopped buying Putin’s gas seven years ago. And now it is up to Europe to announce and implement its own ban.

Shutting down Nord Stream 1 does not mean an immediate gas cut-off, as Putin would have you believe. Gas pipelines via Poland and Ukraine are sitting empty, and when Nord Stream 1 is taken out of the picture, Gazprom will have many options.

As our military continues to hold the line, Ukraine and Europe have a common interest – defend our shared values and deny Putin, and the authoritarian leaders who are watching, the satisfaction of knowing that a war of conquest might be worth it.

The more dependent Russia is on Ukraine for gas transit, the stronger are our deterrents. Immediate termination of Nord Stream 1 will have a massive symbolic significance. It will strengthen Ukraine, demonstrate European unity and mettle, and finally disarm Putin’s energy weapon and conclusively call out blackmail.

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