I was very happy to be interviewed for the Latin American “Energy Analytics Institute” (EAI), a Houston-based consultancy and news service. I’ve followed its work for years.
With Biden in and Trump out, everyone is debating how to deal with Maduro and his chavista regime that’s brought such misery and ruin in Venezuela. It’s not only the USA’s new LatAm team of Biden, Blinken and Nichols, but the EU, Norway, the OAS, the Lima Group, who are all looking for a new strategy. And so has the Venezuelan opposition, plus an increasingly important actor: the growing and doggedly persistent civil society organizations. Increasingly suffering forced-isolation from abroad, this array of social, cultural, media, medical, educational, nutrition, economic and political resistance groups do largely self-sufficient work to replace basic necessities and social-services, which the chavista government and ruined private sector can no longer provide.
However, in this brief Q&A what was addressed was not strategy per se; but a key underlying issue to understand in framing a strategy: the interests of both Moscow and Beijing as key obstacles to removal of the chavista regime. Read at EAI site (free) or Read below – Tom O’D.
China, Russia, Venezuela: Q&A With Thomas O’Donnell
(Energy Analytics Institute, 13.Feb.2021) — China and Russia continue to push around their might in Venezuela. Thomas O’Donnell with the Hertie School of Governance & Freie Universität-Berlin weighs in briefly here.
Energy Analytics Institute: What might China and Russia be willing to do this year to assist Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro?
Thomas O’Donnell, PhD: Beijing’s original (and perhaps still) plan for Venezuela was deep vertical integration mirroring PDVSA-Citgo Petroleum: new Faja upgraders, a pipeline to Colombia’s Pacific coast, dedicated ships, dedicated domestic Chinese refineries, etc. All very rational and lucrative for both sides. China became alarmed with Hugo Chavez’ unreliability and incompetence within a few years and with Maduro’s incapacity to reform within a year or so. The entire “oil-for-loans” history was a fallback strategy for Beijing – at least secure an oil stream with minimized risk. I have no doubt the Chinese Communist Party wants a new Caracas regime it can work with.
This 10 February half-hour roundtable on TRT Television, London looked at the possibility of Nord Stream 2 being stopped by US sanctions. My thanks to host David Foster for the invite.
Today is 20 February, and I should add that since this was recorded, the Biden-Harris-Blinken administration has surprised Congress by sanctioning significantly fewer ships than it expected to be sanctioned for assisting Gazprom to lay pipe in Danish and German waters.
This White House attempt to generate goodwill with Berlin and with Merkel’s ruling coalition is generating bipartisan objections in Congress. Upcoming posts will analyze this development . Tom O’D. Below is the text from TRT network’s promotion of the show. and guests’ names and affiliations.
In this live interview with Deutsche Welle (DW.de) on 12 February, I told host Christoph Kober, that this pipeline is clearly “geopolitical”.
Without Nord Stream 2, Putin can’t significantly escalate his war inside Ukraine; he’d risk his lucrative gas-export business with EU. That’s because, without Nord Stream 2, most of the gas Russia exports to EU countries currently has to arrive via pipelines transiting Ukraine that belong to its finance ministry (the remainder Russia pipes to EU states arrives via Belarus-Poland).
I pointed out that, by invading Ukraine in 2014, Putin created his own worries about his lucrative gas business with the EU. Unfortunately for Ukraine, Germany’s government also frets about this gas, fully 40% of all EU imports, having to pass through Ukraine. And so, Berlin made a “realpolitik” decision in 2015, to assist Russia’s Gazprom to build a huge new a detour pipeline around Ukraine. (I analyzed this policy, in 2017, as a “Neue Neue Ost Politik” and here – i.e., the New New Eastern Politics, a third historical iteration of German elites’ reorientations towards Moscow.)
[This post is a dey late due to the violent attack on the US Capitol orchestrated by the outgoing-president and his followers. This assault has been defeated and the election is being certified by Congress. Trump will soon leave and Biden will take office in accordance with the Constitution and laws. T. O’D.]
The EuroNews Morning Show asked me [yesterday 6 January,] again about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Two key points made in the earlier interviews were:
That the plans of Nord Stream 2 AG (NS2 AG) to restart pipelaying before the holidays in German waters was a propaganda exercise (viz, “a disinformation campaign”) orchestrated by Moscow and Gazprom to create the impression the pipeline can be finished.
Despite this new pipelaying “bravado”, the pipeline was effectively “dead” because of the US sanctions.
These points were an assessment of the impact of the new sanctions law, which was about to be enacted by the US Congress. This is the “Clarifications” of the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, or PEESCA, which was enacted December 2021, despite a veto by President Trump. These PEESCA sanctions have been added to the previous PEESCA (December 2002) sanctions and the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA, initially 2017) sanctions against NS2.
My EuroNews live Morning Show interview today (9 Dec 20) with Rosie Wright:
I explains why the German far-right AfD party, which went to Moscow yesterday to show Lavrov their party’s support for Nord Stream 2, supports the project. The AfD supports it along with all other German parties, from “far-right to far-left, and those in the middle, except the Greens.”
Also, I explain how Europe’s dependence on Russian gas will require decades to escape.
However, what are the strategic objectives of Moscow in building Nord Stream 2? I explain Putin wants to build Nord Steam 2 through the Baltic Sea to Germany as well as to complete the Turk Stream (formerly South Stream) pipeline across the Black Sea and Turkey and on into the Balkans and then into Central Europe, and also west to Italy. The reason for this is so that Gazprom does not have to send Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine and Belarus, countries that are in rebellion against Russian dominance.
Host Rosie Wright, of EuroNews Morning Show interviewed me today. I explain how Nord Stream 2 AG’s plan to lay 2.6 kilometers of pipe in shallow German waters actually shows that US sanctions have effectively killed this German-Russian mega natural gas project designed to help both countries avoid shipping/receiving gas that transits Ukraine (mostly), Belarus and Poland.
The pipeline is not bringing “new” gas to Europe, but is designed to end Gazprom’s (the Russian-state gas export monopoly) having to ship its gas exported to Europe across regions which Putin’s regime wants to subvert and pressure (including by military means) back into the Russian orbit. Ukraine and Belarus.
Berlin for its part, does not want to risk the EU’s gas supply by standing up to Moscow’s subversion against Ukraine and Belarus. The USA (i.e., Congress, on a bipartisan basis, and not Trump) has imposed harsh sanctions that are succeeding in stopping completion of the project. The Biden administration will not alter this reality; Biden has opposed this project and always championed the cause of Ukraine reform and independence from Russian dominance, in favor of moving towards the EU.
Note: EuroNews is the most watched news in Europe, reaching 135 million viewers/month. — Comments and critiques most welcomed, either below, or privately to twod-at-umich.edu. — Best, Tom O’D.
My analysis of the US-German crisis over Nord Stream 2 and policy towards Russia, published in Washington by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS), 8 October 2020. Read it at AICGS website\. Or, continue here. Comments & Critiques welcomed (below or via email)
Nord Stream 2: Allies’ Crisis
Two decades of Washington-Berlin collisions over the Nord Stream 1 and now the Nord Stream 2 pipelines have come to crisis.
The U.S. Congress stopped Nord Stream 2 construction in December 2019 by enacting sanctions under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act (PEESA), and is poised to enact a much harsher “Clarification” of PEESA, sanctioning any entity that resumes or aids in resuming construction in the Baltic Sea. German officials insist the project will, nonetheless, be completed, denouncing U.S. sanctions as “extraterritorial” interference in “European sovereignty.”
In reality, the project appears dead. Statements by businesses interests, as opposed to political actors, support this. To resume construction, companies, ports, officials, and insurers would require guarantees against ruin, including being personally sanctioned, which is difficult to imagine the German state providing. And there is no evidence of preparations to do so. Nevertheless, Russia’s Gazprom continues preparations to resume work.
Complicating matters, the U.S. Congress, having mandated sanctions against the pipeline, would have to approve any compromise. On the other side, the German Bundestag roundly “savaged” a motion by the Green Party to abandon Nord Stream 2 in response to Navalny’s poisoning, unprecedentedly uniting the CDU/CSU of Chancellor Merkel and her SPD coalition partners with both the far-left Die Linke and far-right Alternative for Deutschland.
Soldiers deployed in Poland are a kind of warning to the Kremlin. – Source: GazetaPrawna.pl
My interview on Trump’s announced US troop draw downs from Germany and partial reassignment to Poland appeared in the Polish economic press Gazeta Prawna on 25 June 2020 by the Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz. You can read it (a) in ENGLISH below (via Google Translate, with minor fixes) or (b) in the POLISH original at this link.
O’Donnell: Soldiers at the borders of Russia are a signal to the Kremlin [INTERVIEW]
From a military point of view, deploying too many troops too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that they can be overrun rapidly – says Dr. Thomas O’Donnell, energy and international affairs analyst, and adjunct faculty at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Question: US President Donald Trump has decided to increase the US military presence in Poland, while also reducing the contingent in Germany. Where do these decisions come from?
On the one hand, they logically result from the American National Security Strategy (NSS) of December 2017. Work on it began during Barack Obama’s term of office and was completed by the Donald Trump administration. According to the NSS, the US priority is no longer the war on terror and the situation in the Middle East, but competition with China and Russia. It is therefore quite natural that the United States moves its troops and increases its military presence in countries closer to Russia – the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. The second factor that led to these decisions was the personal involvement of Donald Trump, who is running his election campaign.
Poland’s security will increase?
As a rule, increasing the US military presence in Poland is of course good news. The Pentagon’s activities have been moving in this direction for some time, although the US military is of the opinion that this should be done a little slower and not at the expense of Germany. From a military point of view, deploying too much of the army too close to the border with a potential enemy is dangerous because there is a risk that it will be overrun too soon. There is therefore a tactical reason to keep some of the army a little further from the Russian border. Therefore, the rapid relocation of a significant number of soldiers to Poland is viewed skeptically by some American commanders. Remember, soldiers deployed in Poland are a kind of warning against the Kremlin. There are enough of them for Vladimir Putin to think twice before doing anything. However, not enough – even after increasing the quota – to stop the first strike. The rule is simple here: if Russia decided to attack Poland and American soldiers would die, it would mean a war with all the power of the US. Neither any president nor Congress would hesitate a single moment.
Some American commanders are opposed to the permanent presence of US troops in Poland. Why? Continue reading →
Despite Berlin and Moscow’s rush to make the Nordstream 2 (NS2) pipeline construction through the Baltic Sea a fait accompli, opposition from several EU states has stalled its completion. Meanwhile, Gazprom’s transit contract with Ukraine will expire in January and Moscow has put unacceptable preconditions on negotiating a new one. Once again, Europe must brace itself for a Russian gas-supply crisis. Professor Thomas O’Donnell will discuss European states’ various interests and heightened energy anxieties, the prospects for the NS2 pipeline, and Russia’s strategy.
Speaker: Thomas O’Donnell,
Instructor, Hertie School of Governance, Berlin; Title VIII Short-term Scholar, Kennan Institute — Scholar’s Research-Project Page at Kennan
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
2:00pm-3:00pm – 5th Floor Conference Room
What are US experts’ and officials’ views on the increasingly conflictive energy and geostrategic relations between Russia, Germany, Poland and Ukraine?
Greetings. I’m in Washington as a “Title VIII” fellow of the Kennan Institute in the Woodrow Wilson Center, interviewing people in think tanks and government (legislative and executive) on these topics. I’ll also give a public talk on this at Wilson on 12 June, at 2 PM (more info soon).
I’m interested to hear anything readers think should be asked and of whom. Don’t hesitate to write me at twod(at)umich.edu or my (temp) Wilson email: thomas.odonnell(at) wilsoncenter.org.
A central issue: why is Germany so adamantly for Nordstream 2 despite the negative security consequences for Ukraine and despite the tremendous hit this project is causing to German soft-power not only with Poland, but with most Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Nordic states? (Here’s my own analysis.) How do US experts see this? Continue reading →
Last week, Gillian Rich at Investor’s Business Daily (Washington), asked me (Berlin) and others about the OPEC’s 20-21 June meeting. Below here, I give my views in more detail, including the tie-in to the Trump project to isolate Iran and my comment about Putin likely betraying the Iranians again. The IBD piece is here: Trump Could Make OPEC’s Next Meeting As Dysfunctional As G-7 Summit. 15 June ’18.
We spoke about market and geopolitical aspects. On the latter, I emphasized both the Trump Administration’s evolving plan to sanction and isolate Iran, and Russia’s new role as a central player with OPEC ever since the 2016 joint Russian-OPEC decision to raise production.
That’s when Putin played a new role for any Russian leader. Not only did he coordinate Russian oil policy with OPEC’s, he got personally involved in heated discussions, getting on the phone late in the last night with Iranian and Saudi leaders to get the deal sealed. Continue reading →
I sent this today to European and American contacts – apologies for duplications.
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
I read with interest the declaration: “In spite of it all, America: A Trans-Atlantic Manifesto in Times of Donald Trump – A German Perspective,” signed by a number of leading German foreign policy experts today in Die Zeit and translated in the NYTimes.
Point 10 is of particular interest and much welcomed as – at long last – a frank characterization in Germany of the Nord Stream 2 project for what it plainly is: “a geopolitical project:” Quoting:
10. Energy security policy — giving up Nord Stream 2 is in Germany’s interest
There is one more policy area in which the German government should reconsider its position to open the door for productive cooperation: energy security policy. The United States has identified Nord Stream 2, the planned pipeline running through the Baltic Sea to Russia, as a geostrategic project. They are correct. More important: This pipeline project is not in the joint European interest. Nord Stream 2 contradicts a policy of greater energy independence and undermines the envisaged European Energy Union. We should try to identify a joint approach with our European partners and the United States. (emphasis added – T.O’D.)
The US Senate’s decision to expand sanctions against Russia triggered indignation in Berlin, throwing Germany’s geopolitical ambitions over the Nord Stream 2 project into sharp relief. Read below or get the App. My other articles at Berlin Policy Journal
“Neue Neue Ostpolitik”
Berlin – July 21, 2017 By: Thomas O’Donnell — On June 15, the US Senate approved an act to sharply expand sanctions imposed on Russia in retaliation for its intervention in eastern Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. The broadly bi-partisan move that enshrined Barack Obama’s earlier executive orders – intended as a response to Moscow’s alleged cyber interference in US elections – was a stunning rebuke to US President Donald Trump’s Russia policy, essentially taking a broad swath of foreign policy out of his hands. Continue reading →
Contrary to his campaign hype (see article below), Trump-as-president will not do anything to interfere with the free flow of oil or gas to or from the USA. As I pointed out in the Investors Business Daily interview (Gillian Rich’s story is below), people central to Trump’s administration – such as Rex Tillerson, his designated secretary of state and former CEO of Exxon, and Harold Hamm, Trump’s fracking billionaire friend he wanted for secretary of energy – are global-market-oriented businessmen who would never agree to disconnect the USA from global energy markets.
The free flow of petroleum through the unified global market traded in US dollars – what I call the “Global Barrel” – is central to the business model of every private as well as every national oil company. Today there is essentially one, global oil price. If you break up the global market by limiting imports or exports, you get national markets with national prices. Then what?
If the US price went higher than the global price due to keeping out cheap foreign oil, Trump’s popular approval would dive. And, if the U.S. price went lower due to a domestic production glut of fracked oil, then his support among business would tank.
Moreover, the unified global market serves as the key element in the world’s collective energy-security system by guaranteeing equal access and prices to all suppliers and consumers. Continue reading →
I was interviewed by Gillian Rich at Investors Business Daily (Washington, DC) on non-OPEC Russia’s role in the production cut. The article of December 9, is below. A few points first:
1: President Putin and his minister of energy Alexander Novak‘s participation in the OPEC decision – actually making middle-of-the-night phone calls to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia, plus publicly promising to cut Russian production – is totally unprecedented. Never did the Soviets, nor post-Soviet Russia ever do any such thing previously. Why now?
2: As Rich quotes me as saying, oil prices below $60/barrel impose severe constraints on the Russian state’s income. Indeed, the federal budget has actually been based on $50/barrel, and yet the difficulties are apparent. Although Russian oil production is now at a post-Soviet all-time high, low prices have caused the state’s oil and gas income to severely drop. Here is the EIA’s assessment as of October 2016, showing the correlation of Brent price fall (in both dollars and Rubles) on the left, and the decline in oil and gas federal budget revenue on the right:
But, how much of Russian national export revenue is derived from oil and gas revenue? The EIA (in 2014) puts this at 68%. Here’s the breakdown: 00