At the end of July, the front page of Ukraine’s English-language newspaper The Kyiv Post read: “Betrayal. Global powers U.S. and Germany turn their backs on Ukraine and undermine European security as they strike a deal allowing the completion of Nord Stream 2, Russia’s controversial gas pipeline project.” The publication declared Angela Merkel Ukraine’s foe of the week and Joe Biden “a close second.”
The shift was abrupt. Biden has long been considered Ukraine’s “big friend,” with Brian Bonner, the editor of The Kyiv Post, saying that prior to the 2020 U.S. elections, Ukrainians were “holding their breath and hoping that Biden wins” after the trauma of Trump’s inexplicable affinity for Russia. But now, Biden’s soft approach to Nord Stream 2 is delighting the Kremlin, and catching Ukrainians off-guard.
The bitter “betrayal” headline came after the United States and Germany reached an agreement on July 21 that allows for the completion of the pipeline, which will deliver gas from Russia to Germany. The deal will hike up Germany’s dependence on Russia for its energy needs, while circumventing Ukraine and depriving it of billions of dollars in lost gas transit fees per year. Russia’s current transit agreement with Ukraine expires at the end of 2024.
Germany promised to send an envoy to “facilitate an extension of up to 10 years” on Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Russia, but Putin’s commentary about the prospect of an extension was utterly cynical. The Russian president declared that the decision would hinge on Ukraine demonstrating “good will.”
Meanwhile, Moscow continues to fund and support violent anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin handed out hundreds of thousands of Russian passports to Ukrainians, in order to cement Russia’s claim of “protecting” their citizens in the neighboring country. Russia used the same pretext to justify its annexation of Crimea. In July, the host of the Russian state TV program 60 Minutes Olga Skabeeva claimed that the number of Russian passports handed out to Ukrainians recently exceeded one million.
Cutting off Russia’s reliance on Ukraine for its gas transit eliminates an element of deterrence against Russia’s ongoing efforts to violently subvert its neighbor. Russian state television described the ongoing conflict with Ukraine as part of the Kremlin’s war against the United States.
The U.S. attempted to negotiate a kill-switch clause into its deal with Germany. It would have created a mechanism to cut the flow of gas via the Nord Stream 2 if Russia were to escalate its aggression against Ukraine—but that provision never made it into the final agreement.
The Nord Stream 2 deal was condemned by Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and by the chairs of the Foreign Affairs Committees in Estonia, Czech Republic, Ireland, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania.
Kyiv Post columnist Sergii Leshchenko wrote: “When Biden took office, he talked a big game about supporting Ukraine. Many pinned their hopes on him as the president who would stand up to Putin. But in spite of bipartisan pressure from Congress, in spite of a law specifically calling for sanctions against the project, he decided to waive sanctions to avoid a quarrel with Germany and other NATO allies.” Writing for the Kyiv Post, Max Hunder noted: “For U.S. President Joe Biden, the agreement was a way to repair relations with Germany after they soured during the Trump years, seeing Germany as a key ally in combating China’s influence around the world.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ukraine’s bitter disappointment is rivaled only by Russia’s gloating. “Ukraine lost the battle,” Olga Skabeeva of 60 Minutes exclaimed this Monday, while discussing America’s failure to stop the completion of Nord Stream 2. During the same program, Igor Korotchenko, member of the Defense Ministry's public advisory council, portrayed the matter as a major defeat for the United States. He claimed: “Today, the United States is totally unsuccessful. The escape from Afghanistan, the crash of the U.S. efforts to stop Nord Stream 2, failures in Libya and Iraq. Everywhere, Americans are getting their asses kicked.”
In July, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told state TV propagandist Vladimir Soloviev that the U.S. attempts to stop Nord Stream 2 are finally over. She added, “I understand that perhaps they feel like losers, but even if this is so, then they lost to themselves.” Citing a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, Zakharova compared America to winter, a miserable season that is angry because it’s coming to an end.
Appearing on 60 Minutes in July, popular state TV pundit Karen Shakhnazarov said: “I’m remembering recent times when all of Russia’s political elite was overwhelmingly supporting Trump… But now, Biden is causing us a lot less damage and his politics are a lot more refined… Biden understands that America’s leadership has come to an end.” After loudly arguing with a lone panelist who dared to disagree with his conclusion, Shakhnazarov insisted: “America is no longer a leader and [Biden] is starting to compromise.”
The pundit then compared former U.S. President Donald Trump’s failure to contain Russia to the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. While Shakhnazarov concluded that Trump was successfully trounced by the Kremlin, he claimed: “Biden is not doing anything. Trump tried and failed. Biden is not even attempting to do anything against Russia.”
The West’s complacency isn’t being seen as a friendly attempt at de-escalation, but instead as proof that Moscow’s tactics are working and should be taken even further. On Monday’s episode of 60 Minutes, Skabeeva asserted: “The American empire is falling apart before our very eyes.” Military expert Korotchenko immediately cautioned: “A wounded animal is twice as dangerous… They are a threat to our national security.” He baselessly bragged that Russian spies are intercepting “a number of secret directives” right after they land on Biden’s desk, and claimed that America is planning to interfere in Russia’s upcoming elections.
Addressing Biden’s warning as to the Kremlin’s ongoing interference in next year’s midterm U.S. elections, Skabeeva scoffed: “We interfere only at the presidential level.” Echoing accusations from members of the Republican party claiming that Biden was “in bed with Putin,” Skabeeva resorted to trolling: “It’s curious how we first elected Trump and Biden came to avenge that. Instead, he also turned out to be our agent.”