What unites and divides Moscow and Berlin
Last weekend, Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held Russian-German talks at the Meseberg residence. A significant part of the talks concerned the Nord Stream-2 project, the implementation of which will make it possible to improve the European gas transportation system, diversify supply routes and minimize transit risks, and to meet Europe's growing demand for energy.
At the meeting, Vladimir Putin recalled that Germany is the largest buyer of Russian energy resources: "In 2017, we delivered 53.8 bln cubic meters of gas, which covers more than 30% of the German market, while the consumption of Russian gas is constantly growing and this year it increased by 13%. Germany is not only a market for the supply of hydrocarbons from Russia, but also an important link in their transit to other European countries. By the way, this June marked 50 years since the beginning of gas supplies from the Soviet Union to Western Europe. Throughout this period, our country reliably provided uninterrupted power supply, made and still makes a significant contribution to the energy security of the entire European continent. Together with the German partners we are working on the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project. This is an exclusively economic project, and it does not close off the possibility of continuing transit supplies of Russian gas through the territory of Ukraine. For us it is important to ensure that the Ukrainian transit meets economic requirements and is "economic in all senses of the word."
Angela Merkel noted that "Ukraine should maintain its role in the transit of gas to Europe also in the presence of the Nord Stream 2." "I am very glad that it became possible to start interim talks between Russia and Ukraine with the participation of the EU," the chancellor said.
Yesterday, Russian experts assessed the positions of the parties.
"Germany granted a permit on the construction of the Nord Stream, including the construction of a third land branch of the Nord Stream. Economic entities are involved in the process. Both Putin and Merkel have talked about it, but they are being pressured by [US President Donald] Trump: If Gazprom's partners leave the project, it will be difficult to implement it. The question is what will happen to the underground gas storage facilities, the sale of gas, and Gazprom's overall presence in terms of its partners in Europe. There may be complications. The Nord Stream will be implemented, but Trump will also carry out his threats," deputy Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences Vladislav Belov believes.
Associate Professor of European law at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Nikolai Topornin, agrees with Belov: "The possibility of subjecting the Nord Stream-2 to sanctions is an obvious threat, because Trump does not waste words. Trump won't go back on his word. He will say: "You, Europeans, can cooperate with Russia, we cannot ban you from cooperating with Russia, but if you once come to the American market, you may find some negative aspects here." For example, it may be a ban on US counterparts contacting Europeans or financial limits. Many European companies run a risk of losing significant assets. European business may suffer as well, the German and Russian business in the first place."
The head of the German-Russian forum research projects, political scientist Alexander Rahr told about the broader spectrum of problems facing Putin and Merkel: "I felt Russia's willingness to return to Europe through Austria and Germany, because it is not possible with the European Union as a whole. Speaking about the bureaucracy, there are political forces in the EU, especially in Brussels, which do not want to conduct a strategic dialogue with Russia. And the dialogue with Germany has turned out in the sense that there will be no return to the Cold War. However, the FRG leaders pursued a more independent policy towards Russia in 1970-1980 than modern Germany, which is built into the European consensus and can do nothing without the Baltic states, without the former Warsaw Pact countries. This is a big challenge."
Rahr drew attention to the fact that after Merkel's meeting with Putin, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview to the Welt Am Sonntag newspaper that "there will be no eastern policy, because it is not needed," and in this respect he is fully supported by other ministers and a large part of the German elite. "German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is trying to become the next NATO Secretary General, doing everything to please NATO. We hear extremely harsh statements against Russia. Will Mrs. Merkel be able to ingratiate herself with Russia in such circumstances? She is trying, because in Germany, unlike other European countries, that's the public, ordinary people want. 66% of Germans called for the normalization of relations with Russia. Austria and Germany have a strong public and major business circles that urges their politicians to restore normal relations with Russian politicians."