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Navalny poisoning shows why Putin’s pipeline must be stopped


Konrad Szymański is Poland’s minister for European affairs.

WARSAW — For anyone in the West who believed in the possibility of “normal” relations with Moscow, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last month should have been a rude awakening.

The attack — using the nerve agent Novichok, a modus operandi for Russian secret services in recent years — is just the latest in a long string of hostile activity from the Kremlin, including wars, election meddling and targeted killings.

And yet, even now, some European countries are defending their choice to continue participation in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project — a long-term geopolitical and economic endeavor with Moscow that will make the European Union economically dependent on Russia and undermine our ability to take decisive steps against this type of malign behavior.

This do-nothing strategy is becoming increasingly risky.

If Europe doesn’t want to see its hands tied even more strongly in the future, it has to abandon this pipeline project now.

Over the past years, we’ve seen that Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to be an unpredictable partner. He has consolidated power in his inner circle, changed the constitution to prolong his time in office and showed himself to be openly hostile toward the EU. Betting on “normal” relations with the Kremlin, or normal economic cooperation with Moscow and major Russian companies, is extremely naive.

The Nord Stream 2 project has drawn criticism from the European Commission and the European Parliament for failing to meet the goals of EU energy policy and security. And rightly so. It is a prime example of the bad gamble some European countries are making.

The project will serve Moscow’s political and economic elites and increase Russia’s leverage over Central and Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, that are traditionally dependent on flows of natural gas from Russia.

Beyond the geopolitical risks, the project would also have negative economic consequences, distorting the liquidity of the EU energy market by concentrating almost all Russia supplies — which amount to more than a third of EU imports — in one landing place.

Support for Nord Stream 2 is also questionable given the ambitious new climate goals pushed by the European Commission and the German presidency of the Council of the EU. Increasing the imports of hydrocarbons, from a country with environment rules that are far laxer than ours, would seem to go against EU climate policy objectives.

Of course, the Polish government is the last one to argue that natural gas does not have a role to play in the transition to clean energy, as it is a path we want to pursue in the coming years. Still, we should not allow the success of the EU’s energy transition to be dependent on the will of Putin’s corrupt regime.

Going ahead with the pipeline project would also put relations with our closest ally at risk. In their zeal to protect Nord Stream 2, some countries appear to be ready to harm the transatlantic relationship and possibly fall into a fully-fledged trade war with the United States, where both the Democratic and the Republican parties support halting construction on the pipeline.

Ultimately, all that Nord Stream 2 will accomplish is to create another source of income for Moscow’s political elite and undermine European security by emboldening Putin to take on a more belligerent stance in the neighborhood.

Navalny’s poisoning shows us what kind of partner Putin really is. We should take this opportunity to rethink our engagement, including economic, with Moscow.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

As Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote in a recent op-ed for Germany’s FAZ, the EU has already paid an excessive price for supporting Nord Stream 2: divisions between member countries, sunk economic costs and Moscow’s growing assertiveness toward the West.

If Europe doesn’t want to see its hands tied even more strongly in the future, it has to abandon this pipeline project now.



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