NATO Ally Warns Russia's Nord Stream 2 Leaves Ukraine at Vladimir Putin's Mercy

Lithuania's foreign affairs vice minister, Mantas Adomenas, has warned that the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline—expected to soon begin delivery of Russian gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea—could leave Ukraine at the mercy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an exclusive interview with Newsweek, Adomenas said the Nord Stream 2 project poses a danger to the security of the European Union, NATO, and Ukraine, which is fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country and demanding the return of the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.

"The fact that the project is going ahead is quite deplorable," Adomenas said.

The $11 billion Nord Stream 2 is going ahead despite objections from successive American administrations and a host of EU member states, among them the Baltic nations along the frontier with Russia.

President Joe Biden's administration has failed to stop the deal, which was also opposed by former President Donald Trump. American sanctions were imposed on companies that worked on or insured the pipeline in January, but these were lifted in May.

Critics fear the pipeline will increase European reliance on Russian gas and leave the EU a hostage to Putin's geopolitical schemes. And with Europe's ongoing energy crisis, the timing could not be better for Moscow.

The deal could also imperil Ukraine, which is currently a vital route for Russian gas to reach Europe. Nord Stream 2 would theoretically allow Putin to shut off the Ukraine route, denying Kyiv billions in transit fees and undermining Ukraine's strategic importance to the EU. The current Ukraine transit agreement expires in 2024.

"I foresee that Ukraine gas transit is very likely to be terminated the moment Nord Stream 2 begins to be used," Adomenas told Newsweek. "They will find excuses, they will find reasons," he added of the Kremlin.

Asked if the EU had effectively sold out its Ukrainian partners, Adomenas responded: "I'm afraid that is the case."

Putin is already stoking such fears. Earlier this month, the strongman said Ukraine's aging gas transport system had not been repaired "for decades," adding that "something could burst" along the route at any time.

Nord Stream 2 has divided the EU. Germany has led the advocates, with former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder overseeing the agreement that produced the first Nord Stream pipeline in 2011.

His successor—outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel—has long defended the second pipeline, driven by the energy needs of German industry and households. The need is particularly pressing given Berlin's phasing out of nuclear power and efforts to reduce reliance on coal.

The two Nord Stream pipelines together can carry around 110 billion cubic meters of gas annually. The current Ukraine route has a top capacity of 160 billion cubic meters, but the aging network could require as much as $7 billion in modernization and repair.

Germany has sought to allay Europeans and U.S. fears that Russia could weaponize the Nord Stream supply. Berlin and the U.S. came to a joint agreement in July to respond to any Russian abuse of the gas supply.

Both also pledged to defend continued transit fees for Ukraine, backing to extend the existing transit deal, and $175 million in funding for Ukraine's new green fund, designed to improve Kyiv's energy dependence.

Germany and the U.S. said they were "united in their determination to hold Russia to account for its aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools."

Lithuanian vice minister Mantas Adomėnas Nord Stream
Lithuanian Vice Minister Mantas Adomenas is pictured at a press conference on May 21, 2021. J. Azanovo / URM nuotr/Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Nord Stream 2 is now awaiting approval from German regulators, and according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, could begin full operations in early 2022.

Among the key demands is sufficient "unbundling"—i.e. the EU competition rules requiring the owners of pipelines to be different from the suppliers of the gas that flows through them.

But the German-American agreement has done little to soothe concerns in the Baltic states. "I strongly suspect that the levers that America and Germany maintain will not be sufficient," Adomenas said.

"There's nothing to dissuade us that Russia is not going to use it as a geopolitical instrument, and so far I have seen no credible mechanisms which would ensure that's not the case.

"The EU has become a hostage to inveterate corruption," Adomenas added, referring to Schroeder's rapid transition from German chancellor to leading the Nord Stream AG's shareholder committee. In 2016, Schroeder became the manager of Nord Stream 2.

"On one hand we have a blatant geopolitical instrument, on the other hand we have equally blatant corruption on the European side," Adomenas said. "This is very bad also for EU credibility...this is very clearly a project that goes against the interests of a score of EU countries to satisfy the business interests of one.

"I think the EU should take a stronger stance to ensure that unbundling and all the requirements are met before it can start operating."

Adomenas does not expect the Nord Stream 2 battle to be settled, even when the pipeline does eventually become operational. "We have to admit that it is a failure," he explained, "but I don't think that the battle is over yet.

"We still have to demand compliance to the EU regulations on bundling and transparency. We still have a chance to assess the credibility of the EU as a union, not just in the interest of the largest members but in a shared collective interest."

Russia, too, will not see the issue as settled. Adomenas predicted "active Russian lobbying" for continued support for the project. "We have to be aware that Russia will not let the hold it has acquired—primarily over German but also European energy supply—be weakened."

Nord Stream 2 facility pictured in Germany
The Nord Stream 2 gas line landfall facility in Lubmin, north eastern Germany, is pictured on September 7, 2020. ODD ANDERSEN/AFP via Getty Images