As Germany Answers NATO-Ukraine Doubts, Vladimir Putin Faces United Backlash

When Germany sank billions of dollars of Russian investment by suspending the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, it may well have caught President Vladimir Putin—who seeks to create and exacerbate Western disunity at every opportunity—by surprise.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Nord Stream 2's indefinite suspension in response to Moscow's de facto occupation of rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine. Western allies rallied with praise for Berlin's action, which many had long called for.

"The situation now is fundamentally different," Scholz said in Berlin, marking the end of German support for the $11 billion project that has for years undermined Berlin's relationship with the U.S., Baltic states, and Ukraine, and become emblematic of Germany's perceived failure to stand up to Putin.

The new coalition government in Berlin has been maligned for an apparent hesitance to back Ukraine during the latest round of escalation.

Germany's decision to send 5,000 helmets to Kyiv, in particular, was met with exasperation given its failure to provide weapons and its refusal to allow Estonia to send German-made arms to Ukraine.

But the Nord Stream 2 decision has been met with delight across Europe, particularly on the eastern flank where the Baltic states and Ukraine face more than 100,000 Russian troops led by an aggrieved and unrestrained Putin.

One Baltic diplomat official, who did not wish to be named, told Newsweek that recent weeks have seen the Germans "seriously considering this option."

While not a shock to the nations who have been pushing for Nord Stream 2 cancellation for years, the official said: "I think it might have been more of a surprise to our Russian friends, and that is a good thing."

The official added: "Germany has really increased their rating, at least with the Europeans."

Nord Stream 2 critics warned that the pipeline would hand Putin greater leverage over energy-starved Europe, exacerbating its—and particularly Germany's—reliance on Russian gas.

The pipeline, they warned, would also have allowed Putin to further isolate Ukraine, which currently serves as a key transit route for Russian gas flowing to Europe. Nord Stream 2 would have made the Ukraine route less important to both Europe and Moscow, and potentially deprived Kyiv of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual transit fees.

A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government told Newsweek that Scholz's decision "was somewhat unexpected but obviously very welcomed."

The source, who did not wish to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the move "could prove very important in showing Russia the costs of further aggression."

"It would, of course, be even more powerful if Germany halts Nord Stream 2 indefinitely and sends a signal that gas transit through Ukraine is irreplaceable," the source added.

Yuriy Vitrenko, the CEO of Ukraine's state-owned Naftogaz energy company, said Monday that Berlin should also take action against the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. On the Nord Stream 2 decision, Vitrenko told Newsweek: "Let's see what it means in practice."

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Tuesday that the country can do without natural gas deliveries from Russia. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, meanwhile, said it was "important to show that for a free and democratic Ukraine, we are willing to also accept consequences for our national economy."

Nikolai Petrov, a senior research fellow at the British Chatham House think tank, told Newsweek at a Tuesday briefing that the long-term consequences of Scholz's decision may yet force a renewed debate on the pipeline.

"It's easy now to say that Nord Stream 2 will not be certified," Petrov said. "But what will happen if Ukrainian transit is stopped?"

The EU's biggest powers may yet face an even deeper energy crisis, one that badly undermines their economies and the daily lives of their citizens.

The Nord Stream 2 cancellation was part of the West's initial response to Putin's recognition of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced sanctions on several Russian banks, sovereign debt, and members of the country's elite and their families.

This is the "first tranche" of U.S. measures, the president said. "And if Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions," Biden warned.

The European Union on Tuesday announced its first round of measures. The bloc blacklisted all members of Russia's lower house who voted in favor of the recognition of the DNR and LNR, freezing their assets and blocking them from travel to the Union.

The measures also targeted banks involved in financing separatist activities, while both the DNR and LNR have been removed from an EU-Ukraine free trade deal.

Among the individuals sanctioned by the EU are Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, and Putin's Chief of Staff Anton Vaino.

The West is now waiting to see what Putin does next, promising further sanctions in the case of additional aggression. On Tuesday Ukraine's parliament announced a state of emergency, and Zelenskyy called up the country's reserve forces.

The Russian Duma has now approved Putin's request to be allowed to deploy Russian forces abroad, setting the stage for a possible new invasion of Ukrainian-held territory.

The DNR and LNR hold only part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, though the separatist authorities in both claim the entirety of both provinces—a claim now recognized by the Kremlin.

This Ukrainian-held territory could be the first objective of a new Russian offensive.

Ukraine soldier on Luhansk front line February
A Ukrainian serviceman waits till mortar attack is over at a position on the front line with Russia-backed separatists near the town of Schastia, near the eastern Ukraine city of Luhansk, on February 23, 2022. ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images