A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Op-Ed by Chargé d’Affaires Elizabeth Horst

Published in daily newspaper Postimees
February 6, 2019

The United States counts Estonia among our closest partners and friends. We proudly recognized your re-independence in 1991 and stood with you in Freedom Square in February of last year to celebrate your centennial. Representatives from the highest levels of the U.S. government, ranging from then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to Vice President Pence, have come to Tallinn and reaffirmed our iron- clad commitment to Estonia.

The United States and Estonia are allies – we are unified on many issues of importance to both our nations and are clear-eyed about Russian intentions. Nord Stream 2 is an example of one such issue. While posing as an economic project, the true objectives of Nord Stream 2 are political in nature.  Nord Stream 2 is an effort by the Russian Government to enhance its stranglehold over the supply of energy to European allies and partners, while continuing its campaign to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Recent Russian actions remind us why we must remain vigilant. Russia’s attempted OPCW hack, the poisoning of citizens in EU nations, refusal to accept responsibility for the shoot down of MH-17, and repeated aggression toward Ukraine are stark warnings.  Russia’s unwarranted and unprovoked attacks on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea on November 25 reminds us why the need to stop Nord Stream 2 is urgent. Russia’s actions only strengthen the international consensus that views the proposed pipeline as a direct affront to Europe’s own energy and security goals. If built, Nord Stream 2 and a second line of TurkStream would allow Russian gas to bypass Ukraine. Russia will have no motivation to engage in good faith negotiations on future gas transit via Ukraine. This would deprive the Ukrainian government of billions of dollars of critical gas transit revenue and, with Moscow no longer worrying how its activities could affect gas sales to Western Europe, open the door for increased Russian aggression against Kyiv.

It would be a mistake to take President Putin at his word that Nord Stream 2 is simply a commercial project or that Russia will continue to transit significant amounts of gas via Ukraine in exchange for constructing the pipeline. Russia has proven that it does not honor its international commitments, particularly with respect to energy contracts. In 2009 for example, Russia cut off energy supplies to Europe, costing European lives and threatening European economies, contrary to high-level assurances that such incidents would not happen.

It is also important to note that Russia relies on energy revenues to support its military activities. At a time when members of NATO will increase military spending to deter further Russian aggression, it does not make sense to support a $9.5 billion project that could ultimately fund further malign activities.

The U.S. position is clear.  We oppose Nord Stream 2 because it presents a geostrategic threat to Europe’s security, which affects both the United States and Estonia.  We have clearly conveyed this position to European leaders, and we have made clear that firms doing business with Russian energy export pipeline projects risk significant U.S. sanctions. The United States and Europe share Western values, and we see commerce as mutually beneficial and reciprocal. But doing business with Nord Stream 2 is just not consistent with those shared transatlantic values.

We are united with our Estonian allies in opposition to Nord Stream 2. Together we will continue to advocate for courses of action, including opposing Nord Stream 2 and other similar Russian-backed initiatives, that serve to strengthen, not divide or weaken, European security.