European officials expect Biden to pressure Merkel into killing her prized key gas pipeline project from Russia

Mitch Prothero
Angela Merkel Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Getty
  • Three European officials told Insider that President-elect Joe Biden, when in office, could pressure Germany to drop its Nord Stream 2 pipeline project with Russia.

  • Nord Stream 2, which would transport natural gas from Russia to Western Europe, cost 10 billion euros to build.

  • It had almost been complete when the US imposed sanctions on the project's Russian partners late last year, forcing construction to stop.

  • US officials have argued that the pipeline was an irresponsible economic reward for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has sought to destabilize European politics through various killings and the backing of separatist groups.

  • One EU official described the project as "Merkel's pet," and that Germany would likely try — and fail — to persuade Biden that the pipeline should exist.

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European security officials and diplomats expect President-elect Joe Biden to kill the existence of Nord Stream 2, the unfinished pipeline that aims to carry natural gas from Russia to northern Germany.

American officials have long considered the pipeline an irresponsible economic reward for Russia, which has in recent years destabilized politics in large swathes of Europe through assassinations, targeted corruption, and the backing of far-right separatist groups around the continent.

The multi-billion euro project to connect Russian's vast natural gas reserves with Western European markets through a 764-mile-long, undersea pipeline in the North Sea would have doubled the capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline.

Unlike the existing pipeline, Nord Stream 2 would bypass much of the existing pipeline infrastructure in Eastern European countries - notably Ukraine - that Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly pressured while in office.

It had been almost completed until US sanctions on the project's Russian partners, imposed late last year, put a stop to the construction.

"This is very early in the process. The new administration has yet to take office and of course sanctions on Russia, security for the EU, and the status of the Nord 2 project will be discussed at the proper diplomatic moments," said a German diplomat.

The source refused to comment in an official capacity, and declined to answer follow-up questions. Their identity is known to Insider.

"There's little reason to believe Biden will lift the sanctions currently in place on the Russian side of the project but there have been no discussions with the incoming administration on the matter, and there will not be any until it officially takes office," added the diplomat.

Nord Stream German port
Mukran port in Germany, where some Nord Stream 2 pipes are stored. Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images

President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on the project late last year after a bipartisan group of US lawmakers complained about the economic benefits that the pipeline would bring to Putin, and the risk to Eastern Europe if Russia decides to turn off gas flows to the region while still delivering on its Western European contracts.

The arrangement surrounding the existing Nord Stream pipeline requires Russia to send natural gas to Western marks via Eastern European pipelines - an act that limits Russia's ability to threaten gas shortages to some nations.

The US sanctions - which were expanded in a US defense spending bill that is widely expected to pass in the coming weeks - effectively stopped the project from completion with less than 200 km of the pipeline remained to be built. 

The sanctions also left both Germany and Russia deeply concerned about the economic loss of canceling a project  that cost a total of 10 billion euros to build.

'It's Merkel's pet'

One EU diplomat based in Brussels told Insider that though Nord Stream 2 is German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "pet" project, she could have trouble arguing with Biden for its existence.

biden merkel
Merkel and Joe Biden. Getty

"Trump doesn't care about Putin, he made it clear in repeated meetings with German officials he opposed the deal because the US wasn't making any money off it," said the official. They asked not to be named because their country is not directly involved in the project, but their identity is known to Insider.

"Biden's not going to come into office and reward Putin for all the bulls--- over the last five years, from the election-meddling to the assassinations," said the diplomat, referencing more than half a dozen recent incidents in which Putin or his Chechen proxies targeted dissidents in Europe.

"Germany wants the project, it's Merkel's pet, but they're going to have a hard time arguing for it considering the anger at Putin across much of the West," they said.

"Biden will argue that Putin needs to be hit hard for his behavior and the Germans won't have much of a response to arguments that Russia ordered people shot to death in broad daylight in Berlin."

Joe Biden Angela Merkel
Merkel and Biden. Andreas Gebert/picture alliance via Getty Images

A security official from a Baltic country - whose area would be directly affected by Nord Stream 2 - said the Germans would likely argue that locking Putin and Russia into an economic relationship with Germany would be a moderating balance on Russia's behavior.

The official dismissed that argument out of hand.

"If there's one thing that Europe should have learned over the past 15 years it's that doing business with the Russians moderates your response to Russian aggression," said the official.

"It's never the other way around. Putin always assumes he can take more pressure in a standoff. Nord 2 just offers him a new place to hold these standoffs."

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