A few weeks ago, during Biden’s tour of Europe, Germany and the United States finally reached an agreement on the controversial Nord Stream II gas pipeline. The US president resigned from the opposition that his administration had maintained respect for the pipeline up to that moment and the chancellor
Angela Merkel publicly threatened Russia with sanctions if Putin actually used its natural gas as a ‘weapon’. Merkel also promised financial support to Ukraine, for which gas transit has been an important source of financing that threatens to die out. But it seems that Biden will not settle for the promises, but wants to make sure that they are kept, so he has appointed an observer of his trust to permanently and from German soil, be in charge of monitoring the operation of the gas pipeline. The man chosen for this mission, half diplomatic and half police, is Amos Hochstein, who has been appointed as the US special envoy for the Nord Stream II project. Is about a staunch opponent of the gas pipeline and arrives in Germany ready to take a close look at everything what happens.
During the presidency of Donald Trump, Amos Hochstein did everything in his power to try to stop the construction of the pipeline. Berlin, Hochstein said, was opening up to Russian blackmail with the project. He has always insisted that Vladimir Putin can turn off the gas tap at any time and leave half of Europe without heating any winter that comes across a geopolitical project according to his ambitions. And you haven’t changed your mind, but his mission now is to make sure Germany keeps its promises after Merkel leaves the Berlin Chancellery, after the general elections of September 26 to which he no longer appears. As reported by the American news website Axios, Hochstein was interviewed for the position for the first time in April, which means that Biden was already clear on this course of action long before reaching the latest agreements with Merkel. Back then, Hochstein was still known in Nord Stream II circles as the “pipeline killer.” Now, after Biden’s deal with Merkel, Hochstein can no longer prevent construction, but his appointment, which took place on Monday, is a symptom of Washington’s determination to keep the matter under tight control.
Between 2011 and 2017, Hochstein worked as an energy expert at the US State Department and advised then-President Barack Obama. Prior to that, Hochstein was an advisor to various American Congressional committees and has also worked for a Texas natural gas company. Now he is leaving Washington as a gas pipeline diplomat and a shield from problems for the president. Biden’s deal with Germany has been strongly from different flanks and Hochstein must cover Biden’s back. From Ukraine, which will likely lose its role as the main transit country for Russian natural gas and, with it, more than a billion dollars in revenue each year. But also from the American Democrats and Republicans, who would have liked a tougher approach to the issue. With his appointment, Biden makes it clear that he still does not believe in Nord Stream II and that he will demand that Germany fulfill the commitment to “use all the levers” to achieve an extension of the gas transit agreement between Ukraine and Russia, which expires in 2024. A promise, in any case, difficult to keep. If there comes a time when Putin no longer wants to use Ukraine as a transit country for Russian gas, Berlin will be able to do little about it. Merkel also promised Ukraine additional financial assistance of $ 245 million, in addition to the creation of a fund together with the US to finance investments in energy transition and energy security in Ukraine. This will be the easiest part of the agreement to fulfill and it is no secret that the German government is confident that it can make up for its failure in the previous point with some type of expansion of that fund, putting more money on the table.
This complicated development is just one of the last chapters in the zigzagging story of the Nord Stream II. In December 2019, construction was initially halted by sanctions imposed by Donald Trump. After Biden’s election victory, the companies resumed work and the line is almost ready, but it is still an apple and a permanent source of contention between US President Joe Biden, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Americans in the past have insistently suggested alternatives to Nord Stream 2 for Germany: gas from Texas, Alabama or Oklahoma. There was talk of “Freedom Gas,” a project in which tankers would push “freedom gas” across the Atlantic, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz campaigned particularly aggressively for this solution. Hochstein does not lose this perspective and will supervise the pipeline, surely, from a more than demanding point of view.