U.S. Official Tells Europe Not To Waive Nord Stream 2 Pipeline Approval Process

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(Article text ©2021 RFE/RL, Inc., Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – rferl.org – Todd Prince – WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2021 – article text also appeared at rferl.org/a/putin-calls-us-senator-mccain-old-world-but-admires-his-patriotism/28537171.html)

A senior U.S. state department official has warned Europe against bowing to Russian pressure and waiving the lengthy process needed to approve Nord Stream 2, a controversial Baltic Sea natural gas pipeline to Germany.

Amos Hochstein, a senior advisor for global energy security at the State Department, said that if Russia has more gas to ship to Europe to ease the continent’s supply crunch, it should do so through existing export pipeline infrastructure, including the ones that transit Ukraine.

“I don’t think that we should, as a society of laws, the United States and Europe…be pushed into waiving restrictions, waiving the regulatory process and the legal process in order to satisfy a crisis that, to some degree, can be alleviated through other means and mechanisms,” Hochstein told reporters on October 25.

Europe is suffering from record high natural gas prices amid a supply crunch caused by a series of factors, including low power generation in parts of Europe and China from renewable energy. Europe and China vie for liquefied natural gas exported by ship.

Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, is ready to ship additional volumes to Germany through the $11 billion Nord Stream 2, President Vladimir Putin said last week at an energy conference.

German and European regulators must first approve the new pipeline, which was completed last month, before it can begin exporting Russian gas.

Hochstein said the European approval process would not be finished before the start of March, when the continent’s temperatures traditionally begin to rise and its gas demand drops.

That has pushed some in Europe to recommend fast tracking the Nord Stream 2 approval process to meet greater demand during the winter.

However, Russia has the ability to ship more natural gas to Europe now via Ukraine, its traditional export route.

Russia, though, is seeking to circumvent natural gas shipments around Ukraine as Kyiv looks to break from Moscow’s orbit and join the European Union.

Russia exported almost 90 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas through Ukraine in 2019 compared with an expected 40 bcm this year.

Ukraine earns billions of dollars a year from Russian natural gas transit.

The United States has called Nord Stream 2 a political project aimed at punishing Ukraine and had sought to block its completion.

The Biden administration in May jettisoned the idea of further sanctioning the pipeline, saying Russia would complete it regardless of the economic penalties imposed.

To help soften the blow to Ukraine from the launch of Nord Stream 2, the United States and Germany agreed to invest in the country’s alternative energy industry.