The Gazprom-favoured pipeline Nord Stream 2 has been a major irritant in world affairs for a couple of years now. All of a sudden however it stopped being an issue, during the US-Russia meeting in Reykjavik.
In the EU, several countries, to name just Poland and the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, are deeply disappointed. They will frown at the body language of Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, who suddenly look like pals in photos.
The US has let them down, they don’t know why, and there had been no advanced warning. For several of the US’s NATO allies, this development is humiliating. For Ukraine, it’s another very bad moment.
Why did the Biden administration make this controversial move? Possibly because it had to choose between two evils. The first evil is to stick to the sanction policy, at the price of antagonizing Germany and other EU countries which have stakes in the project. Moreover, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is 95% ready, with only some 80 kilometres of piping still remaining.
The second evil is to look meek vis-à-vis Russia, at a time when the Kremlin is more assertive towards the West than it has been since the Cold War. Then you call it Realpolitik, meaning you accept setbacks and move on because it is the best option right now.
It’s important to note that the US decided to put its relations with Germany above all other considerations. Certainly there is a price tag, and we can deduce that Berlin aligning with the tough US policy versus China is part of the deal.
It’s also significant that this US administration made a gesture to Germany and core EU members, because the experience of the Iraq war, when George W. Bush chose New Europe against the Old Europe should not be repeated.
But the biggest gesture is of course to Russia, as it sets a less confrontational environment ahead of a Biden-Putin summit, somewhere in Europe. Whether Russia will reciprocate with some degree of military de-escalation or hold its spooks and covert actions is a long shot.
In Reykjavik, Blinken warned Lavrov that the US would respond to provocations from the Kremlin but that Washington seeks a “predictable” relationship with Moscow. He also said that “if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, our allies, we’ll respond”.
Lavrov answered that Russia would like an “honest” relationship, “with the facts on the table, and of course on the basis of mutual respect”.
A better US-Russia relationship is in the best interest of the EU. We are not there yet. And if this is Realpolitik, détente is still far, far away.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]