Nord Stream 2 – A Vital Pipeline or a Muzzle?

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What considerations were given to human rights when Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project was negotiated and allowed to be completed?  Nord Stream 2 pipeline will increase natural gas supplies to western Europe – primarily to Germany.[1] The natural gas will be coming directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.[2] The pipeline is owned exclusively by Gazprom, a Russian energy corporation.[3]

This seems innocuous enough – European countries entering into a mutually beneficial agreement with the aim of increasing the supply of a greener source of energy. However, a deeper dive shows just how complicated this issue is, especially when it comes to the protection of human rights, and especially in Russia and more vulnerable European states. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[4] has been fully embraced by the European Union. It was the building block for the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.[5]  The EU proudly states that it is committed to supporting human rights, listing respect for human rights and democracy as some of their founding principles.[6]  If Russia becomes the majority provider of Germany’s natural gas, will Germany, as one of the most powerful EU member states, still be able to criticize and impose sanctions on Russia if they violate human rights while Russia holds the finger on the switch of Germany’s natural gas? Is it possible that a Russia dependent Germany will be less likely to join the EU in imposing sanctions on a bad-acting Russia?  Under this assumption, one could theoretically conclude that the effect of Nord Stream 2 is to distance Germany from the EU’s human rights goals. 

Undisputedly, Russia has a checkered past when it comes to human rights violations.  There are ample examples that show Russia’s disregard of the human rights: jailing of opposition leaders[7], atrocities committed by Russian-led forces in Ukraine[8], aggression towards Georgia[9], etc.   The preference is to publicly condemn this behavior and impose sanctions because sanctions can serve both as retribution and deterrence. [10]  The EU has imposed plenty of sanctions on Russia in the past.[11] 

Currently over 50% of Germany’s energy comes from fossil fuel, which includes natural gas. [12] However, with Germany’s ambitious goal to dramatically reduce carbon emissions by phasing out nuclear energy and coal power plants, their only option for “clean” energy comes from natural gas.[13] The amount of energy that Germany gets from renewable sources is currently simply not enough to cover all its present or future needs[14], which is why it can be assumed that Germany will become completely depended on Russia for their natural gas supply.

Germany is a major player within the European Union as evidenced by the number of seats that they hold in the Parliament.[15]  Even though each member country can independently impose sanctions against another country, it is clear that a sanction imposed by the entire European Union carries more weight.[16]  The imposition of EU sanctions must be approved unanimously be all member states.[17] Since each member state may have different interests or agreements in place, it can be assumed that this process can be difficult. 

Given the need for a unanimous vote, one can wonder how the vote may be affected if Germany is going to be dependent on Russia?  Is Germany going to be hesitant to agree to impose EU sanctions against Russia in fear that they may be immediately cut-off from their natural gas supply?  Russia has used one of their natural gas pipelines as a weapon against a European state in the past.[18] It has been widely speculated that the reason for cutting of natural gas supply to Ukraine (and effectively to some other European countries) in 2014 was in retaliation for EU sanctions on Russia.[19] Can Russia use Nord Stream II as a weapon against Germany?

As recently as early fall 2021, the supply of Russian natural gas to Europe through the existing pipelines has dramatically decreased.[20]  Can we believe that this is just a coincidence, or should we be more pragmatic when it comes to Russia?  Skeptics say that this is purely a power move by Russia trying to force Germany to speed up the last steps that need to be taken to open Nord Stream 2 especially as winter is about to grip Europe.[21]

The writing appears to be on the wall, and some may say that it has always been there. The question we need to ask is this: “Is too late, and Russia will be allowed to do whatever it wants?”  Given Russia’s most recent move in early fall of 2021, we may not need to wait too long before we get an answer.

[1] Gas Pipeline Nord Steam 2, Gazprom, (last visited Oct. 27, 2021).

[2] Id.

[3] Shareholder and Financial Investors, (last visited Oct. 27, 2021).

[4] U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

[5] Eur. Ct. H.R., Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

[6]Human Rights and democracy, European Union, (last visited Oct. 27, 2021).

[7] Rafael Behr, Alexei Navalny has been jailed. But he’ll still be spooking Vladimir Putin, The Guardian (Feb 2, 2021),

[8] Ukraine: Mounting evidence of war crimes and Russian involvement, Amnesty International (Sep. 7, 2014),

[9] Russia’s “Hybrid Aggression” against Georgia: The Use of Local and External Tools, Center for Strategic & International Studies (Sep. 21, 2021),

[10] Sanctions: how and when the EU adopts restrictive measures, (last visited Sep. 7, 2021).

[11] EU Sanctions Map,,%22searchType%22:%7B%7D%7D (last visited Sep. 7, 2021).

[12] Energy Resource Guide – 2021 Edition, International Trade Administration, (last visited Oct. 27, 2021).

[13] IEA policy review commends Germany’s ambitious efforts to advance its clean energy transition, International Energy Agency (Feb. 19, 2020),

[14] Id.; Energy Resource Guide – 2021 Edition, supra note 12.

[15] 2019 European election results, European Union, (Feb. 7, 2019),

[16] EU sanctions: A key foreign and security policy instrument, European Parliament, (May, 2018) p.7, .

[17] Id. at 11.

[18] Paul Kirby, Russia’s gas fight with Ukraine, BBC News (Oct. 31, 2014),

[19] Id.

[20] Sam Meredith, Russia is pumping a lot less natural gas to Europe all of  sudden – and it is not clear why, CNBC (Aug 24, 2021),

[21] Id.