It is increasingly difficult for Berlin to defend its claims that Nord Stream 2 is a purely economic project. Instead of backing out of this horrendous deal for Europe, Germany appears to be amplifying a new narrative in its favor — to complete the construction of the pipeline while conditioning its use on European Union decisions and Russian behavior.
If built, Nord Stream 2 will pose an intelligence threat to the West. There exists the risk that the infrastructure used to lay the Russian pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea may allow the Kremlin to deploy surveillance devices.
“The new project would permit new technologies to be placed along the pipeline route, and that is a threat,” said the deputy assistant secretary of state for energy diplomacy back in 2018 during her visit to Berlin.
Similar concerns have been voiced by Sweden with regard to Nord Stream. In 2006, the then-Swedish minister of national defense said quite bluntly that the Russians would be able to exploit the Russia-to-Germany gas link for intelligence collection.
Given that the Baltic Sea is highly congested and regularly used by NATO for exercise purposes, and given its strategic importance as the only waterway for liquefied natural gas carriers bound for terminals in countries that purchase LNG overseas as a way to escape the dependence on the Russian energy supplies (such as Poland), among other considerations, the Russian intelligence threat posed by Nord Stream 2 must be taken seriously.
Equally salient is the risk that Russia may one day deploy its naval forces along the pipelines’ routes on a national security pretext, leaving much of the Baltic Sea unnavigable, including for LNG carriers, cargo ships, the navies of the countries surrounding this body of water and NATO maritime forces. In such a scenario, the potential for escalation is clear.
Poland, the largest country on NATO’s eastern flank and one that hosts approximately 4,500 rotational U.S. military personnel, is fully aware of the security concerns related to Nord Stream 2. Therefore, Warsaw is also seeking ways to stop the construction of the dangerous Russia-to-Germany gas link.
When in September 2020, Poland’s antitrust body imposed an enormous fine on Gazprom over Nord Stream 2, Russia responded with disinformation and propaganda. The Kremlin’s weaponized narratives suggested that Poland was only doing this to toady to the U.S. The same pattern has been used by Russia with regard to Polish-U.S. military cooperation. For example, last year’s Defender Europe 20 Plus exercise — hosted by Poland with 6,000 U.S. and Polish soldiers and featuring the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement by the presidents of both countries — was targeted with narratives suggesting that Poland was eagerly handing over its independence to the U.S., and that the American soldiers were in fact occupying the territory of its ally with the consent of the Polish government.
“If anyone decides to engage with Russia, they are in fact doing business with the Russian security apparatus,” Poland’s Minister-Special Services Coordinator Mariusz Kamiński underscored as he delivered the keynote address at a conference hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center in 2019.
This approach should be common to the entire Western community. The money Russia could earn from pumping its gas to Europe via Nord Stream 2 would likely later be used by the Kremlin to destabilize the West through targeted poisoning attacks (e.g., Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny), disinformation campaigns, interfering with democratic processes, cyberattacks, coup d’etat, military aggressions, etc.
It is very encouraging to see that more and more countries in Europe are waking up to the problem, and it is high time Germany heard and took that wake-up call seriously. It is reassuring that the new U.S. administration seems to be sticking to the U.S. Congress’ bipartisan consensus that Nord Stream 2 is a threat to national security. U.S. anti-Nord Stream 2 sanctions have proved to be an extremely efficient tool to halt the construction of the pipeline linking Russia and Germany. The U.S. should remain at the forefront of the fight against this dangerous venture and continue to work with Europe, particularly with the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, to bring about its demise.
Stanisław Żaryn is a spokesman for Poland’s minister-special services coordinator.