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Nord Stream 2 disinfo spikes as Tillerson visits Warsaw

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In a 27 January meeting in Warsaw, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz criticized plans for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russia to Germany. Tillerson warned that “Russia is undermining energy security in Europe with this project” and “politicizing energy.” Czaputowicz emphasized that Nord Stream 2 would violate the European Union’s policy of energy diversification by increasing dependence on Russia and undermining the steady flow of natural gas through Ukraine. He said it would also threaten the development of alternatives such as Poland’s natural gas terminal in Świnoujście, which can  receive gas shipments from all over the world, including the United States.

Pro-Kremlin website Sputnik covered Tillerson’s trip in an interview by its Polish correspondent Leonid Sigan—who was expelled from Poland on suspicion of spying—of Konrad Rękas, a commentator and activist for the Zmiana party, which Polish counterintelligence has accused of receiving funding from Russia. In line with Moscow’s general propaganda on U.S.-supplied natural gas to Europe, Rękas said the real reason Washington is trying to convince Europeans to abandon Nord Stream 2 is so that U.S. suppliers can sell high-priced natural gas to Europe—and that Nord Stream 2 would ensure the continent’s “economic independence.” According to Rękas, the United States wants to “use Poland to blackmail Europe. That’s why they are blocking European-Russian energy initiatives.”

Accusing the United States of blackmail is characteristic of Russian energy politics. In addition, Rękas’s claims about the cost of U.S. natural gas are debatable. Polish officials argue they could sell extracted raw material at attractive market rates—a factor Rękas conveniently ignores. Moreover, U.S. natural gas would allow Europe to reduce its dependence on Russia, say experts at the European Commission (EC) as well as Polish and other officials. Having alternative suppliers is what would actually provide economic independence from Russia. 

Pro-Kremlin media outlets also often try to give the impression that Nord Stream 2 is a primarily European enterprise threatened by politically motivated U.S. and Polish rivals, and that Poland is a puppet carrying out America’s orders against its own economic interests. This type of populist disinformation is on shaky ground, since the subject of wintertime gas trade is complex, and the average consumer is not concerned with the details.

Nord Stream 2, however, is not primarily a European project. It would be built by the Russian company Gazprom, which is also one of its major investors and shareholders. The project also involves five European financial partners—E.ON, Engie, OMV, Shell and Wintershall—all of which claim Nord Stream 2 is a clean business enterprise that should not be linked to the politics of the country in which it is registered.

One reason pro-Kremlin outlets oppose energy cooperation between Warsaw and Washington is the fact that Poles turned to the Americans to impose sanctions against those involved in Nord Stream 2. The threat of sanctions reduces Nord Stream 2’s profitability and might discourage Western partners in the future. The EC refused to support the project since it would not increase Euope’s energy security. On this point, both Poland and the United States agree.