Nord Stream 2 stop leaves German Russia policy ‘in pieces’

After President Vladimir Putin's latest move to escalate tensions in Ukraine, Germany is facing up to its dependence on Russian gas and the failure of its decades-long attempts to cooperate with Moscow.

Nord Stream 2 stop leaves German Russia policy 'in pieces'
Part of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

Putin’s recognition of two breakaway regions in Ukraine prompted Western countries to respond with a raft of sanctions, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz pulling the plug on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia.

Moscow’s aggressive steps had “changed” the situation, Scholz said, and thrown into question Germany’s energy security if it continued to rely on Russia.

Amid growing friction with the West over the last year, restricted deliveries of gas from Russia sent prices for energy to multi-year highs.

Having announced a stepwise withdrawal from nuclear energy after Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011, Germany is highly reliant on gas, with the fuel making up 26.7 percent of its mix.

The majority of those supplies, in turn, come from Russia over pipelines running through Ukraine, Poland and under the Baltic Sea.

When asked on Wednesday on public radio whether Europe’s largest economy could do without Russian gas should the taps be turned off as tensions climb, the minister for economy, energy and climate, Robert Habeck, said “yes, it can”.

Ending the dependence would however “drive prices higher”, Habeck said, causing a serious headache for consumers who have already seen their energy bills rise precipitously.

READ ALSO: How will the Nord Stream 2 freeze affect Germany’s gas supplies and prices?

‘Fatal mistake’

Despite opposition from the United States and other allies, Germany stood firmly behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project until recently.

As tensions mounted at the start of the year, Scholz was reproached for failing to explicitly name a stop to the controversial project among possible sanctions.

But he called time on the project’s approval process on Tuesday, and with it Germany’s more sympathetic diplomatic stance towards Moscow, which held out the possibility of working together.

The Russia policy pursued during former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office until 2021 was a “fatal mistake” the tabloid-style Bild said after the reversal.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel

Russian president Vladimir Putin presents former chancellor Angela Merkel with flowers at one of her last state visits in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Bundesregierung | Guido Bergmann

Instead of taking Putin’s aggression seriously, Merkel and her foreign minister, now president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier had “let everything go”, the paper said.

With the recognition of the breakaway regions, “decades of German foreign policy lay in pieces”, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote.

The “special role” that leaders in Berlin had assumed in negotiations with Russia while trying to broker a solution with Ukraine had produced little.

The economic carrots — such as Nord Stream 2 approval — that had been dangled in front of Moscow came to look like a stick for Germany’s own back.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany has scuppered Nord Stream 2 but there are questions left to answer

Renewables shift

The latest crisis leaves not only Germany’s diplomatic stance towards Moscow but also the government’s key priority of energy policy ripe for reevaluation.

The coalition between the Social Democrats, Greens and the liberal FDP had resolved to make massive investments in the move towards renewable energy, while using gas to bridge the gap.

Germany’s gas supplies were “assured” in the short term despite the halt to Nord Stream 2, Claudia Kemfert from the DIW think-tank said.

However a total end to gas deliveries from Russia would require “considerable efforts to make up the difference”, she said.

A possible alternative was to build terminals for the delivery of liquified natural gas directly from countries such as the United States, Qatar or Canada, Kemfert said.

No such installations exist at the moment, though Habeck has previously raised the possibility of expediting the approval of their construction to diversify gas supplies.

“The best answer is the build up of renewables and significant energy-saving measures,” Kemfert said.

By Sebastian Ash

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.