The Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany will not move forward if Russia invades Ukraine, the US state department has said, in a significant strengthening of the west’s previous position on the strategically vital gas supply.
As tension ratcheted up over Russia’s military buildup on its neighbor’s eastern border, state department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday night that the Biden administration was “working with Germany” to ensure it could withstand the loss of the pipeline.
“I want to be very clear: if Russia invades Ukraine one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” Price told National Public Radio. “I’m not going to get into the specifics. We will work with Germany to ensure it does not move forward. ”
Emily Haber, Germany’s ambassador to Washington, appeared to endorse a hardening of the position in comments on Thursday. She noted on Twitter that “the US and Germany jointly declared last summer: if Russia uses energy as a weapon or if there is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia will have to pay a high price.”
The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, also made this clear. “Nothing will be off the table, including Nord Stream 2,” Haber said.
The comments came after a day of intense diplomatic activity, with the US saying that it had set out a path to address Russian demands in eastern Europe, as Moscow held security talks with western countries and continued its military buildup.
In a written response delivered in person by its ambassador in Moscow, the US repeated its commitment to upholding Nato’s “open-door” policy while offering a “principled and pragmatic evaluation” of the Kremlin’s concerns, said the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken .
Russia has demanded NATO pull back troops and weapons from eastern Europe and bar its neighbor Ukraine, a former Soviet state, from ever joining. Washington and its Nato allies, such as the UK and France, reject that position but say they are ready to discuss other topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.
Putting things in writing is a good way to make sure we’re as precise as possible, and the Russians understand our positions, our ideas, as clearly as possible. Right now, the document is with them and the ball is in their court, ”Blinken said.
The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said: “While we are hoping for and working for a good solution – de-escalation – we are also prepared for the worst.”
Europe’s most divisive energy project, Nord Stream 2 is designed to double the amount of gas flowing from Russia straight to Germany, bypassing the traditional transit route through Ukraine via a pipeline along the bed of the Baltic Sea.
It has faced resistance within the EU, from the US as well as Ukraine on the grounds it increases Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and denies Ukraine transit fees, at a time of Moscow’s broader standoff with the west.
The $ 11bn (£ 8.3bn) pipeline was first announced in 2015. Angela Merkel, who stepped down as German chancellor in 2021, was an enthusiastic backer as it promised to supply cheap fuel to 26m German homes.
But longstanding fears that it could give Vladimir Putin more leverage over Germany and other European countries have been amplified significantly by the Ukraine standoff.
The pipeline’s construction was completed in September but its owner, the Russian gas company Gazprom, is waiting for final legal permission from German regulators to open the valves and send gas westwards.
The prospect of Russia cutting off supplies in the event of a conflict has led the Biden administration to begin talks with gas producing nations across the world to secure supplies for Europe.
A senior US official said this week that “contingency” plans were being drawn up, and the White House said that Joe Biden would host the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on Sunday, with their agenda including “ensuring the stability of global energy supplies ”.
When asked about reports that industry had little or no capacity to provide the required supplies, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Wednesday that the US faced logistical challenges, especially around moving natural gas.
“That’s part of our discussions with a lot of companies and countries,” Psaki said. “But again, these conversations are ongoing and we do not intend to fail.”
On Thursday, Australia’s resources minister, Keith Pitt, refused to confirm whether Australian officials were in active discussions with the Europeans about gas supply.
He said Australia had been one of the most reliable suppliers of liquefied natural gas throughout the pandemic. “We will of course continue to meet our existing contracts but where there is a shortfall Australia will always look to support our friends,” Pitt told Sky News Australia.
Whether any shortfalls would provide Australian exporters with a long-term opportunity or just become a short-term fix was “a matter for exporters to determine”, he said.