Concurrently in the last weeks, world attention has focused on two immensely controversial pipeline projects: the North Stream natural gas pipeline, connecting western European consumers with suppliers in Russia and central Asia; and Keystone XL, which would take petroleum from Canadian oil sands in Alberta and transport it to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. The two projects both raise basic geopolitical issues—but issues representing quite different types of geopolitics.
North Stream is controversial because it carries gas from Russia under the Baltic directly to Germany, bypassing Poland and Ukraine. This means Russia could curtail gas shipments to Ukraine, which it has done several times to exact financial and political concessions, or to former Soviet satellite countries, without affecting supplies to West Europe. Arguably, North Stream positions Russia to bully Poland, the country that suffered the most at the hands of the Nazis in World War II.
Contemporary Germany's political culture is in many ways exemplary. But it does not speak well of the culture that former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has served as chairman of North Stream, fronting for the project and acting in effect as an employee of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In some countries such an intrinsically conflicted arrangement would not be tolerated.