Why Ukraine didn’t manage to stop Nord Stream-2

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«Smaller countries will sooner or later find themselves facing this choice: either Chinese money or American pressure. This has already happened in Ukraine, even more than once,» writes Dmytro Sherenhovskyi.
Photo: Radio Free Europe

Photo: Radio Free Europe

On July 21, the United States and Germany agreed they would enforce sanctions against Russia if the latter uses the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline to hurt Ukraine. With this agreement, Germany gives the green light for Nord Stream to complete the Baltic pipeline, which will bypass Ukraine. Dmytro Sherenhovskyi, Candidate of Political Science who teaches at Lviv’s Ukrainian Catholic University, writes about what this means for Ukraine and what next steps Kyiv might take. 

After the publication of a joint statement by the United States and Germany on Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that will bypass Ukraine, sending gas directly from Russia to Germany, a wave of accusations of treason spread once again within the Ukrainian media space. Yes, we can react emotionally to results. Yes, this position of the partners looked like a conversation about Ukraine without Ukraine, although let’s not prevaricate – consultations on this issue were constantly taking place. So what did we miss, and what should we do next?

Any policy is a matter of analysis and management. The question is, were our real losses from the Nord Stream-2 project and the real benefits of other parties well calculated? There is a feeling that there was no comprehensive analysis. Because if someone did it, we would have the understanding. Do we have real opportunities to influence the project, and what are they? Not abstract, but concrete – 1,2,3. 

What do I mean? To write out the area of probable decisions and calculate their alternative variants. There is such a methodology in management and negotiations as BATNA (Best alternatives to negotiated agreements).

If there are real opportunities, how much will it cost us to make use of them? If not, can the Nord Stream question be included in a broader package of issues? 

Perhaps, it would be worthwhile to involve other parties. For example, Poland proved to be an excellent and consistent ally. Such involvement required more attention to Polish interests, but this is already about the cost of the issue. The point is that all these conditions and consequences can be calculated.

It all refers to the inner side of the situation, but there is also the outer side. The United States has relied on large countries, such as Germany, to contain China. And it’s difficult to disagree with them in the selection of strategic partners who have similar interests, similar management culture, values and decision-making. 

Does Ukraine demonstrate the same culture to the measure that in this confrontation, the United States will choose to partner with us in, and not with Germany – it’s another question that has to be answered honestly.

It must be honestly admitted that such a game of the United States is quite risky – it may succeed or not. Smaller countries will sooner or later find themselves against the choice – either Chinese money or American pressure (this has already happened in Ukraine, even more than once).

In such situations, the factor of governments often plays the leading role: if they are corrupt, the Chinese will take what is theirs, if they are narrow-minded, they will try to sit on the twine and bargain until they lose everything. One way or another, they will later have to extinguish anti-Western attitudes, crazy ideas, and conspiracy, which will be a big task in the background of populists’ rise.

But apparently, the United States is evaluating its resource and following the path of «smaller trouble.» And this must also be understood and taken into account, showing with all our effort that we are normal, we have reserves of stability, we are not a corrupt and backward country, we know how to make difficult decisions, think strategically and keep the blow. 

We have the same values and the same concerns as the West, so we are the same stakeholders on the issue of confrontation with China and the EU’s energy security as Germany. However, this has to be proved not by empty words or promises but by concrete actions, particularly internal reforms, predictability, and contribution to international security.

At the same time, it must be understood that all oil and gas streams are medium-term solutions for the West. Green initiatives will put increasing pressure on national governments. The EU Green Course is becoming increasingly normative for member governments with concrete dates, indicators and requirements. Prospectively, they will easily give up countries that play the role of» fueling stations». However, it will happen later, and now is now.

Moreover, in Germany, everything can turn upside down. After the recent floods, the Greens may gain support, and the Christian Democratic Union may lose it. After the election, a coalition led by the Greens may be formed, which may well raise questions about the future of the Nord Stream project, just like Biden halted the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States.

Whether this will happen is a matter of probability. But are we taking them into account, or are we making tactical adjustments to our Nord Stream strategy? And do we have a strategy that goes beyond noisy phrases? Big politics require counting, pragmatics, arguments and the ability to negotiate.

An active campaign for university entrants is underway these days. And we demand from entrants a good passing the Independent external evaluation (obligatory exams for the school leavers in Ukraine). But will we pass the test of readiness to big politics ourselves?

The author’s column is a reflection of the author’s subjective position. The editorial board of Tvoe Misto does not always share the views expressed in the columns and is ready to give dissenters the opportunity for a reasoned answer.

Dmytro Sherenhovskyi

Translated by Vitalii Holich

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