Time.news – Barring surprises, it will be Angela Merkel’s last trip to Washington in her capacity as chancellor: on Thursday she is expected at the White House, where she will meet Joe Biden with the explicit intention of relaunching relations between Germany and the United States after the bilateral difficulties during the Trump administration.
Although the American president and his secretary of state Antony Blinken have taken every opportunity to reiterate how important the alliance with Berlin is, there are more than one burning dossiers on the table. First among all, the multi-billion dollar Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, aimed at drastically increasing the flow of gas from Russia: after years of planning and construction, the pipeline could supply Europe with about 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
Biden, like his predecessor, is strongly opposed to the pipeline: the official version is that Washington fears that Europe with the pipeline will become excessively dependent on Russia. It is true that in recent weeks the tone of the discussion on Nord Stream has softened, so much so that Washington has suspended the sanctions against the company that manages the project: according to analysts, it is a choice that must be related to the need for Washington to ensure Berlin’s support in its hard-line strategy towards Beijing.
But the game is far from simple, and not just because Merkel continues to defend the project. Nord Stream is one of the most impressive shipyards in the Baltic Sea, as well as the most controversial: on the one hand the companies that participate in it have invested billions, but on the other, as Spiegel writes,
“The price that the Federal Republic has to pay is perhaps even higher: no infrastructure project has eaten such large political capital in recent decades”. The project is at a very advanced stage: the ships of Gazprom, the Russian state energy giant, are loading the pipes south of the Danish island of Bornholm in order to complete the last section of the pipeline.
Overall, the pipeline sites have already completed 90% of their work. It is difficult to go back, just as it is also complicated to continue to say that it is simply an “economic project” as repeated several times by the Chancellor. Merkel is well aware that Nord Stream is a heavy dossier: it is a “disturbing element” in relations with Washington, as stated by a German diplomat quoted by the German weekly. “Berlin must go out to meet the US to show that the issue of good relations is being taken seriously.”
In reality, the talks have been in full swing for some time and concern the possible modalities of mediation: not only is it easy to imagine that the negotiation around Nord Stream was one of the “off” topics in the recent face to face between Blinken and the Chancellor and even more so in the conversation with his German counterpart Heiko Maas. In addition, a few weeks ago, Berlin sent Merkel’s foreign policy advisor, Jan Hecker, to the US to try to identify the first foundations of an agreement.
The Ukraine question
Other talks between the chancellery and the White House, it is assured in the German capital, were conducted last week. One of the nodes is Ukraine: one of the hypotheses on the table is to offer Kiev a “compensation” for the loss of importance as a transit country for Russian gas, for example by offering the Ukrainian government cooperation in the field of production of gas. hydrogen as well a billionaire contribution to help get the Ukrainian gas network back on track.
It is difficult to say whether it will be enough to soften Washington, which has never liked Merkel’s line of defense towards the project, given that even within the European Union the resistance to Nord Stream is very strong. Especially in Eastern European countries: it is certainly not surprising that the Baltic countries and Kiev see red when they hear about a gas pipeline that risks increasing the EU’s dependence on Moscow.
Moreover, opposition to the project has grown over time also in Germany: not only the candidate for the chancellery and leader of the Greens Annalena Baerbock said that if it were up to her, the project would have already been stopped for some time, even from the same ranks of the Merkelian CDU have voices began to rise against Nord Stream. Among others, the president of the Foreign Affairs Commission at the Bundestag, Norbert Roettgen, had asked to stop the construction sites in the wake of the Navalny case.
A suspension of Nord Stream was proposed some time ago by the general secretary of the FDP liberals, Volker Wissing: “The interests of human rights, freedom and the need for democracy come before economic interests”. And then, a few days after the Chancellor’s first visit to the new tenant of the White House, the words spoken by Tony Blinken during his recent mission in Berlin resound: “For the US, the priority is that the pipeline is not used by Russia as a ‘weapon”.
And again: “The question is that the pipeline is almost finished. So now let’s try to get something positive out of what is a difficult situation. Europe’s energy security must be strengthened and not weakened, and this must also apply to Ukraine. We are continuing to discuss this with our German partner ”.
Heiko Maas had tried to give his assurances: “We will make sure that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not abuse the pipeline to put pressure on Ukraine. In our interview Antony made it clear once again that the US has very clear expectations for what concerns Nord Stream ”. In addition to words, concrete steps are needed, he noted in Washington.
One of the ideas on the ground – but it seems difficult to implement – is that of provide for a mechanism that blocks the transit of gas if the conditions for civil rights in Russia are no longer valid.
For Merkel – who also proved very hard on the Kremlin in the Navalny affair and who has several open fronts with Moscow, from Russian hacker attacks against the Bundestag to the murder of a former Chechen rebel in Berlin for which the Russian 007s are blamed – it is a flammable dossier, so much so that it deserves criticism from Spiegel: the assertion that it is a project of eminently economic value “is absurd: nothing in Russia is as political as the gas industry, whose revenues keep Putin-system alive ”.
In reality, the German government thinks in the opposite way: as pointed out on several occasions by Maas, the pipeline is on the contrary a tool to maintain contact with Moscow in difficult times, while the “strategy of demolished bridges” is wrong, because it would end up to push Russia to strengthen its cooperation with China, which is certainly neither in the interests of Europe nor in those of the United States.
Obviously, Merkel and Biden will not only talk about Nord Stream. One of the issues on the table, it is said in Berlin, will be what the Chancellor calls the “hybrid war” of Moscow, that is the hacker attacks that would start from Russian territory, already at the center of the long phone call that Biden had yesterday with Putin: a This theme is certainly not new for Germany, just think of the cyber-attack that six years ago sent the whole Bundestag network into a tailspin.
Meanwhile, the White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, assured that the meeting is aimed at strengthening the “deep and lasting” relations between Germany and the US. For Merkel, however, it will be a visit full of meaning also from a personal point of view: during her ‘reign’ now 16 years long she has already sat at the table with three other American presidents before Biden, namely George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. And, in one way or another, they have never been walks.