Credit: Photo: Flip Franssen

MH17 no obstacle to concealed gas talks with Putin

By Ties Keyzer, Mira Sys, | 24 March, 2021

When flight MH17 was downed by a Russian missile in 2014, the Netherlands froze diplomatic and trade relations with Russia. At least, to the outside world. Behind the scenes they quickly re-established ties, which the Dutch government did not inform parliament about. The reason: Russian gas.

After several years of a diplomatic standstill, the business community revived contacts between the Netherlands and Russia in 2017 through the Russian-Dutch ‘Working Group on Energy’. This platform of high-level government officials from both countries, established in the early 1990s, meets roughly every one and a half year to discuss current economic issues. After the disaster year of 2014 – in which a Russian missile brought down MH17 and Russian troops invaded Ukraine – the business community maintained relations between the Netherlands and Russia by organising congresses and mutual visits.

The Dutch government did not inform the House of Representatives that it had revived ties with Russia, and when Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok answered questions about bilateral contacts with Russia in late December 2019, he did not mention this official working group, which was scheduled to meet in Moscow a few weeks later.

The Investigative Desk and Follow the Money have obtained Russian documents that prove these contacts. The documents discuss these contacts in proud terms and in a much more transparent manner than the Dutch government acknowledges.

It is no coincidence that the companies that re-established these ties, including Russian gas giant Gazprom and Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, are also taking part in the controversial Nord Stream 2 project. The two pipelines of the project will transport surplus gas from Russia to Germany (and from there to the Netherlands and other countries).

Countries in central and eastern Europe fear that by building the pipelines, Russia will largely bypass the gas network in Ukraine and eastern Europe, making those countries more vulnerable to Russia’s whims and less important as suppliers to the western part of the continent. They also worry about Russia’s increased dominance in this field, worrying that it will step up its ‘pipeline politics’ and use energy as a political weapon.

Meanwhile, countries like Germany and the Netherlands see the project as a great opportunity to secure their energy supply and argue that it is ‘purely a business deal’.

Hence, Europe is divided over Nord Stream 2, while the Dutch government sides with Russia. That became clear when the Dutch government opposed a proposal that the European Commission would negotiate projects involving energy pipelines entering the EU from third countries, instead of leaving these negotiations to the member states in which the pipelines reach the EU. The proposal could mean the end of Nord Stream 2, since it specifies that such projects cannot be owned and operated by the same company. Gazprom owns and operates the pipeline.

Former Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes said at the time that the Netherlands opposed the proposal because it values member states’ sovereignty and because investors would be more reluctant to release funds for projects from outside the EU. He believed this would adversely impact the security of supply.

A coalition of the Netherlands, Germany, and other countries ensured that a decision on this issue was postponed repeatedly. If Nord Stream 2 were to be completed in the meantime, it would be legally much more difficult to stop the project.

After a long delay, a compromise was reached, giving member states more of a say in the negotiations, but under EU supervision. This is a lifeline for Nord Stream 2, because Germany, which supports it, will be the first country consulted. The last 138 kilometres of the pipeline are currently being laid in Danish and German waters.

The MPs, MEPs and energy analysts we spoke with, were not aware that high-level talks are being held with the Kremlin through the ‘Working Group on Energy’. GroenLinks (GreenLeft Party) MP Bram van Ojik has never heard of this working group. ‘So, the Cabinet claims that Nord Stream is a private project, while at the same time serving the corporate interests in the project. The House of Representatives was not notified about this.’

On March 24th, a vast majority of parliament supported the motion put forth by Bram van Ojik in reaction to our findings. The motion confirmed that parliament was not informed about the Working Group on Energy and implored the government to provide insight in the outcomes of these bilateral talks with Russia.

Read the full article on FTM.

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