How is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affecting the Nord Stream 2 pipelines’ grip on Europe?

Sustainable Leaders | Europe

By Julia Riopelle, Co-Editor in Chief

Published March 21st, 2022

On February 22nd, 2022, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made the decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This decision adds to the questions surrounding the future of European energy security and whether Russia’s war on Ukraine has evoked a turning point in Europe’s dependency on Russian energy.

The significant move was quickly followed by U.S. President Biden imposing strong economic sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 AG company, a registered Swiss firm, whose parent company is the Russian state-owned partner, Gazprom.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visiting armed forces against Russian-backed separatists in Donbass, Ukraine. | Manhhai / Flickr

According to the New York Times, just a month prior to the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, Scholz seemed to be reluctant when having been asked if he would follow suit on President Biden’s request to stop project upon a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Whilst over the past years Germany has been careful in jeopardising German-Russian relations due to their reliance on Russian gas—over 50% of German energy imports come from Russia—Chancellor Scholz’s quick decision to freeze the €9.9 billion project showed strong solidarity with Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s invasion.

Due to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline’s clear benefit for Germay’s energy supply and their economy, the sudden move was likely unexpected by the Kremlin, whose troops in Ukraine are now bombing near those pipelines they hoped to move their reliance away from.

What is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline?

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a €9.9 billion project which reached its completion September of 2021, has the capacity to carry 55 billion cubic metres of liquid natural gas (LNG) to Europe per year. The pipeline runs relatively parallel to the Nord Stream pipeline, which first began operation in 2011 in the Baltic Sea, starting from Ust-Luga, Russia and completing its journey in Greifswald, Germany.

Running 1,200 kilometres in length, Nord Stream 2 is one of the longest underwater pipelines in the world. Together, Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 have the capacity to transport around 110 billion cubic metres of natural gas from Russia to Europe per year.

Already prior to its construction, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline faced opposition from the United States, the United Kingdom and up to nine European Countries—particularly Poland and Slovakia. Whilst few consider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to be a purely commercial project, many cannot ignore its geopolitical implications.

Those countries who oppose the project worry that the operations of Nord Stream 2 will increase European dependency on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, opposition which has now increased further due to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Professor Andreas Goldthau, a researcher of energy security at the University of Erfurt, explains that the capacity of the two pipelines could shift the dependencies from other systems, notably the Ukrainian gas transit network.

A destroyed tank after a battle between Ukrainian and Russian forces near Kyiv. | Manhhai / Flickr

Russia supplies 40% to 50% of European gas, transported thus far mainly via the Nord Stream pipeline and the central European pipelines running through Ukraine. According to DW, Ukraine earns €1.2 billion a year in transit fees from Russia, in order to transport this energy through their extensive pipeline network; this also means that Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia.

As Benjamin Schmitt, a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told Deutsche Welle: If Nord Stream 2 becomes operational, Ukraine’s national security becomes undermined, as Russia will not necessarily need to rely on this network to transport their natural gas.

Operation of Nord Stream 2 could cause supply disruptions by up to 40% in the EU member states of Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania; in some circumstances Poland would be significantly more affected. The move would cut off Eastern European countries from a much needed energy supply, whilst still keeping larger, Western European countries as primary consumers of Russian energy.

It takes the transit monopoly that some Eastern European countries have on Russian oil and gas, and takes away the security that may be preventing other politically motivated agendas. Professor Goldthau writes, ‘By some, Nord Stream 2 is seen as cementing Russia’s dominant role in EU gas suppliers and depriving Eastern Europe of an important insurance policy against Russian meddling—their role as transit countries.’

However, overall, Nord Stream 2 does not necessarily increase European dependency on Russian energy, but rather reallocates its transit routes—which, in turn, harms Eastern European countries who house current transit networks. This increases Russia’s ‘grip’ on Europe, as not only is Europe dependent one one main energy supplier, but one main transit route.

The response of the international community to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Already when Russia annexed Crimea, past concerns of the EU on their interdependence on Russian energy resurfaced; the EU responded to the annexation of Crimea by imposing economic sanctions on Russia’s oil exports.

Again, the EU and the United States are using economic sanctions to try to stop Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine—the main mitigation strategy they can take without escalating the conflict to a third World War.

On March 8th, 2022, U.S. President Biden made the decision, after consulting with US Allies and the Members of Congress of both parties, to ban all Russian oil, LNG and coal imports. Whilst the EU is too interdependent on Russian energy to outright ban its imports-with 25% of crude oil and 40% of natural gas imported from Russia-they have acted on Russia’s invasion on Ukraine with four packages of sanctions.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholf withdrew paperwork for Germany’s agreement to the operation of Nord Stream Pipeline 2. | German Presidency of the Council of the EU 2020 / Flickr

As summarised by the Council of the European Union, amongst others, the sanctions include:

  1. “Targeting 352 members of the Russian State Duma with sanctions.

  2. Restrictions on economic relations with the non-government controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

  3. Restrictions on the ability of the Russian state and government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets and services.

  4. Freezing all assets of President Valdimir Putin and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov.

  5. Prohibiting all transactions with the Russian Central Bank, state-owned enterprises, new investments in the Russian energy sector and SWIFT ban on seven Russian banks.”

Russia is feeling the consequences of the sanctions; being home to 17% of global conventional gas reserves, energy is core to the Russian economy. The European market is also where Gazprom, the Russian partner in the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline project, makes most of its revenue—thus Europe is a market that Gazprom and Russia cannot afford to lose.

The only way for Europe to move away from Russia’s influence and increase their own energy security is to either diverge to other fossil fuel and LNG suppliers, such as Qatar, or increase investment into rapidly developing green energy—the latter being in line with the EU’s net-zero by 2050 ambitions. However, only time will tell how Europe will respond to this humanitarian and energy security crisis.

‘Europe is a market that Gazprom and Russia cannot afford to lose.’

Whilst Putin voices his rationale for invading Ukraine as integrating the land that is ‘rightfully Russian’ back into his reminiscent Russian empire, his political strategy is to hinder NATO from gaining any more influence in the East.

Notably, however, Putin’s perspective of NATO’s threat removes any agency from Ukraine and its people, who have long fought for their independence—a concept Putin does not seem to understand, nor accept.

CEO of Naftogaz, the largest oil and gas company of Ukraine, Yuriy Vitrenko, argued that the creation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a purely political move: ‘Russia wants to punish Ukraine for its European choice.’

Featured Image: Manhhai | Flickr

Eddy M. (2022) ‘Germany Responds to Russia, Halting Nord Stream 2 Pipeline.’ The New York Times. Available at: [Accessed March 19th, 2022]

European Council (2022) EU response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Council of the European Union. Available at: [Accessed March 19th, 2022]

Goldthau A. (2016) Assessing Nord Stream 2: regulation, geopolitics & energy security in the EU, Central Eastern Europe & the UK. Report. King’s College London. Available at: [Accessed March 19th, 2022]

Harper J. (2022) ‘Can Ukraine do without Russian gas transit fees?’ Deutsche Welle. Available at: [Accessed March 19th, 2022]

Mason J. (2022) ‘U.S. slaps sanctions on company building Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline.’ Reuters. Available at: [Accessed March 19th, 2022]

Vihma A. and Mikael W. (2016) Unclear and present danger: Russia’s geoeconomics and the Nord Stream II pipeline. Global Affairs. Volume 2, number 4, pages 377-388.

Could the war in Ukraine derail the EU’s net-zero transition?

Sustainable Leaders | Europe

Enbridge ignores Michigan’s shutdown deadline and continues to transport propane across Line 5.

Sustainable Leaders | North America