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Here's Why Arrests of Gazprom's Assets in EU Unlikely to Paralyze Nord Stream 2

© Sputnik / Grigoriy Sisoev / Go to the mediabankPrior to the grand opening ceremony of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the German town of Lubmin.
Prior to the grand opening ceremony of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in the German town of Lubmin. - Sputnik International
Ukraine's Naftogaz has weaponized the February 28 Stockholm arbitration court ruling in order to block Gazprom's European endeavors. It raises the question whether Naftogaz's efforts will bear any fruit. The Ukrainian move comes amid the US increasing its pressure on EU member states over Nord Stream 2.

A Dutch court has stipulated that Gazprom's assets be frozen after receiving an appeal from Ukraine's Naftogaz, which is seeking to seizure the Russian gas giant's property in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain, in accordance with the Stockholm arbitration court ruling announced on February 28, 2018.

"Naftogaz will use all legitimate measures and tools available to us to enforce the decision and fully recover the amount awarded from Gazprom," the company's CEO, Andriy Kobolyev, stated.

Naftogaz further reported that "six out of seven of Gazprom's Dutch subsidiaries have refused to cooperate with the bailiffs."

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The roots of the dispute between Gazprom and Naftogaz go back to 2014, when the two companies submitted multi-billion claims against one another to the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. In February 2018 the arbitration court obliged Gazprom to pay Naftogaz $4.63 billion. At the same time, in accordance with the court's earlier ruling, Naftogaz ought to pay Gazprom about $2 billion and buy 5 billion cubic meters of gas from the Russian giant annually from 2018. As a result, Gazprom's net payment amounts to $2.56 billion.

However, observers suggest that Naftogaz's effort to freeze the Russian energy corporation's assets could be part of a broader plan to crack down against the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project. Once implemented the endeavor could substantially reduce Europe's dependence on the Ukrainian gas transit route.

Therefore, on May 30, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko singled out Gazprom's shares in Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 as having "high liquidity" and called upon Naftogaz to make every effort to ensure the implementation of the court's ruling.

"The process of the enforcement of recovery of $2.6 billion from Gazprom has been moved to practice. Today, the encumbrance of shares and other assets of Gazprom in European countries, in particular, Switzerland, the UK and the Netherlands was started," Poroshenko said.

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Thus, Nord Stream AG and Nord Stream 2 AG headquartered in Zug have become the first Gazprom's subsidiaries targeted by the Ukrainian gas company.

On May 30 legal officers visited the office of Nord Stream AG in Switzerland but did not execute any property seizures, a source familiar with the matter told Sputnik that day.

Later Nord Stream 2 said in a statement to The Financial Times that it had "received a freezing order in respect to claims of debts against Gazprom" adding that "it doesn't have an impact on the Nord Stream 2 project."

It appears that the conflict between the two commercial companies have translated in a political standoff. Amid the US-backed campaign against Nord Stream 2, supported by some of Washington's allies in the EU it seems that the UK will follow in the footsteps of Switzerland and the Netherlands and meet Naftogaz's demands.

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In the Netherlands, Gazprom also owns South Stream Transport B.V., which operates the offshore part of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline. Gazprom Marketing & Trading, the key trading structure of Gazprom, is registered in the UK.

By freezing Gazprom's assets in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Great Britain, Naftogaz hypothetically could paralyze the implementation of new export projects of the Russian gas holding. However, there are certain doubts that these efforts will bear tangible results or disrupt the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The imposition of interim measures by Swiss and Dutch bailiffs only means that the sale of these assets by Gazprom is prohibited. However, the gas giant has not signaled its intention to sell its Swiss, Dutch or British companies.

The actual seizure of Gazprom's European assets could be made on the basis of additional court decisions and only with the company's participation. Meanwhile, according to Gazprom's official statement, the company has yet to receive official notifications of the ongoing procedure from both Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In any event, the proceedings related to the issue may go on for years, especially given the fact that Gazprom has strong arguments, which any court will have to take into account.

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As for Nord Stream 2 AG, it would be especially hard to seize and sell its assets, as Ukraine's Naftogaz demands, since the Russian company pledged the subsidiary's shares to Royal Dutch Shell, Wintershall, OMV, Engi and Uniper for their loans. The court decision should not infringe on the interests of third parties. In addition, a subsidiary is not liable for debts of its parent company.

Meanwhile, the Russian company filed an appeal against the Stockholm arbitration court ruling. According to Gazprom the decision-making process was in violation of law: "An extra examination of the text of the decision with engagement of a globally recognized expert linguist showed that a considerable portion of the arbitration award was written by another person, rather than by arbitrators," the company's statement said.

On March 29, 2018, the company filed a request with the Svea Court of Appeal in order "to contest and partially cancel the final award issued on February 28. On May 28, Gazprom filed a motion seeking to completely reverse the arbitration award.

Naftogaz's move was preceded by Poland's Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) that launched proceedings on May 9 targeting six companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project — Russia's Gazprom, Germany's Uniper and Wintershall, Switzerland's Engie, British-Dutch Shell and Austria's OMV. Earlier, in 2016, the Polish regulator blocked a joint venture between Gazprom and its five partners.

For its part, the United States has stepped up its pressure against European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 endeavor. According to Foreign Policy magazine's sources in the Trump administration, the White House is seeking to bring the Russian-European project to an end.

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