Thousands of Russian troops remain massed at the Ukrainian border, where Moscow started moving them in November, prompting fears of an imminent invasion. Whether that now happens may depend on one thing: Nord Stream 2, an $11-billion natural-gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that runs under the Baltic Sea. German energy corporations worked with Russia’s Gazprom for almost 10 years to build the 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) pipeline, but Germany’s energy regulator suspended the approval process in November. As United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last month, “If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine.” Why is Nord Stream 2 so important?

Anatol Lieven, the senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, is the author of Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry and two other books on Russia. As Lieven sees it, Nord Stream 2 is critical to Moscow not only for the significant income it would bring but also because Russia needs the European gas market for geopolitical reasons. Still, Lieven says, Putin is making a careful calculation that Germany needs the pipeline just as much as Russia does. Germany is Europe’s biggest economy and fourth-largest in the world, and it doesn’t have better choices than Nord Stream’s natural gas to power the country. Putin doesn’t ultimately want to invade Ukraine, Lieven says; he wants to use a serious display of Russian military strength to get the West to limit its ties to Kyiv—and to make sure Nord Stream 2 goes through.

Michael Bluhm: What’s going on with this pipeline—and what’s it have to do with the standoff on the Russia-Ukraine border?

Anatol Lieven: At the moment, nothing is going on with Nord Stream 2, because the Germans have suspended certification—officially, on technical grounds, but this is really a way of holding pressure on Russia over Ukraine.

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