Alwaght- As Moscow and Berlin tighten their resolve to finish a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany known as Nord Stream 2, Washington, which since the beginning of the project categorically opposed it, over the past few days stepped up its threats against the participants in the megaproject, warning that it would impose economic sanctions on any company partnering the pipeline construction.
The threats by Washington have exhibited the widening gaps on the two sides of the Atlantic, especially between Germany and the US, with Berlin arguing that the pressure is blatant American meddling in the German home decisions. But President Donald Trump administration, having full bipartisan support for its pressures, believes that punitive measures are needed to make Russia walk back from the project.
The US has warned on Wednesday that it will sanction any company that helps Russia construct the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that travels long under the water before it reaches the German coasts.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the energy majors on Wednesday. “It’s a clear warning to companies that aiding and abetting Russia’s malign influence projects will not be tolerated,” Pompeo said. “Get out now, or risk the consequences,” he continued.
He said he is traveling to Britain and Denmark this week to discuss the project with London and Copenhagen leaders.
“Let me be clear, these aren’t commercial projects,” he said. “They are the Kremlin’s key tools to exploit this bad European dependence on Russian energy supplies . . . a tool that ultimately undermines transatlantic security”, he added.
Congress two years ago passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), to try to stop Russia from completing the pipeline. At the time, the state department said loans and investments made before that date would be exempt from sanctions. On Wednesday, Pompeo said the Trump administration was removing those protections.
Nord Stream 2 is projected to deliver gas to Germany and Central Europe with a pipeline 1,230 kilometers long. It is being constructed by a company aligned with Gazprom, Russia’s leading gas company. Nearly half of the project was funded by five major European energy companies: Shell, Uniper, OMV, Wintershall, and Engie.
The sanctions will put restrictions on US operation and business of any company partnering with the project.
Another project is Turk Stream, another Russian-constructed gas pipeline that delivers energy to Turkey. Traveling about 930 kilometers through the Black Sea, gas will be delivered to Turkey with a capacity of 31.5 billion cubic meters per year. Nord Stream 2 plans to supply annually 55 billion cubic meters of gas to European states through a pipeline traveling through the Baltic Sea.
Under Trump, the US shale gas and oil industry witnessed a boom, turning the country into a key rival to conventional energy suppliers in the global energy market. This motivates many experts to argue that the White House push against the developing Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream pipelines is to eliminate Russia as a major gas supplier from the ring of a heating up competition to supply energy to Europe as a major consumer.
Russia argues that the US sanction threats are an effort to use political pressures against Russian trade interests.
Reiner Seele, the chairman of the executive board of OMV, a consortium that is Gazprom’s main partner in Austria and cooperates with the Russian gas giant in gas production, transportation, and supplies, tacitly confirmed that the US opposition to the pipeline has an economic motivation and that it displays the American energy policy in Europe.
This even was admitted by the White House officials. Trump objected to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to carry Russian gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea prior to a working lunch with the heads of the Baltic States in 2018 at the White House.
“Germany hooks up a pipeline into Russia, where Germany is going to be paying billions of dollars for energy into Russia,” said Trump and added, “And I’m saying, what’s going on with that? How come Germany is paying vast amounts of money to Russia when they hook up a pipeline? That’s not right,” he told his guests the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Alongside his objection to the project, Pompeo said that under Trump the US increased its energy production, adding that “we are always ready to help our European friends meet their energy needs.”
Earlier, the US started exports of petroleum and coal to the Eastern European countries like Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine.
Russia resolved to complete the unfinished portion of the project
Russia has promised that it will respond to any new sanctions. Gazprom also vowed that it will alone complete the pipeline if European partners are forced by Washington out of the project.
The work on the pipeline in the Baltic Sea was halted while only 120 kilometers were left to end the project when the Swiss pipe-laying company Allseas was forced by the US sanctions to abandon.
Another unfinished part of the pipeline should move through Denmark’s economic waters. In November 2017, the Danish Parliament approved a law that allows the country's authorities to prohibit the construction of Nord Stream 2 in Danish territorial waters.
The Russian authorities said earlier that they would find an alternative route in the case of Denmark's rejection of the existing route.
Since then, Gazprom had to send its own pipe-laying ship to Germany to complete the project. However, last week, Demark gave a green light for the project to go ahead through its waters. Denmark’s Energy Agency confirmed the permit on Monday, pouring cold water on the US push against the project. Experts estimate that with Denmark's permission, it takes only three months of work for the project to fully complete.
Transatlantic division widens
The sanctioning of the Russian gas supply line to Europe which is desperate to secure sustainable energy provision for its future once again brings to surface the deepening American-European gaps under Trump. Josep Borrel, the European foreign policy chief, on Saturday said in a statement that “I am deeply concerned at the growing use of sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, by the United States against European companies and interests. We have witnessed this developing trend in the cases of Iran, Cuba, the International Criminal Court, and most recently the Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream projects.”
Transatlantic gaps in political and security aspects are even worse. While fear of the US reduction of military support to Europe in the future pushed the French President Emmanuel Macron in November 2019 to describe the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as “brain dead”, the Trump’s order for the US military to cut troops in Germany caused new controversy.
Germany's Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer during a meeting with her Polish counterpart Mariusz Błaszczak in Warsaw on Wednesday labeled as “important” the redeployment of common European forces across Europe, including Germany and Poland, signaling that Berlin pursues a policy of security and military independence for the European Union in the future.