Category Archives: European Union

Nord Stream 2: Berlin-Washington Mutual Intransigence Shows Transatlantic Divide on Russia | My AICGS Analysis

Credit: Gerd Fahrenhorst via Wikimedia Commons

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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I’m quoted by the FT | “Germany warns new US sanctions endanger Nord Stream 2 pipeline. (As) serious interference in European sovereignty”

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Chancellor Merkel, x-Chancellor Schroeder, Gazprom and Russian officials et al open valve for earlier Nord Stream 1 pipeline, 11 Nov. 2011. (Radio Free Europe)

Here is the link to the Financial Times article of 2 July 2020. (pay wall likely). However, a plain-text version is also below, at the end of this post (for which I beg the FT’s indulgence).

Comment on deteriorating US-German relations over the Nord Stream 2 project

As my brief FT quote indicates, the new PEESA Clarification Act sanctions now before Congress are intended to be so severe as to convince German officials to abandon any further attempts to complete the pipeline with Russia, killing it permanently.

This is essentially an ultimatum, which, as such, will of course be taken badly by the German side. However, German leaders’ and experts’ widely held perceptions that these sanctions are motivated primarily from the mercantilist and transactional approach to US-German relations touted by Trump — such as demands to purchase US LNG — are sorely missing the message emanating from Congress, and not least because US opposition to these projects long predates its shale gas revolution and emergence as an LNG-exporting country.

These sanctions are not flowing from Trump’s complaints against Germany.  In fact, this will be the third time Congress, on a bipartisan basis, has imposed sanctions on Russian interests contrary to Trump’s wishes.

The first instance was the codification into law of President Obama’s executive sanctions on Russia, which Obama had imposed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014.  These were made into a law in June 2017 which passed with so many votes that Trump could not veto the bill.  This was done precisely because Trump was not trusted to keep in place Obama’s sanctions, considering Trump’s demonstrated affinity for Putin.

These 2017 measures also gave Trump presidential authority to sanction Nord Stream 2; however he refused to do so.  Therefore, Congress imposed mandatory sanctions on Nord Stream 2 in December 2019, known as the PEESA act, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2019. These were the sanctions which had the effect of immediately halting construction of the pipeline.

However, in response, both the Russian and German governments have repeatedly made clear their resolve to complete construction regardless of these 2019 sanctions.  And, once again, since Trump refuses to take further action to stop the pipeline’s construction, Congress is expect to soon enact the very severe PEESA Clarifications Act presently under consideration.

In short, US congressional sanctioning of Nord Stream 2 construction cannot be seen as simply a product of Trump’s presidency, of his nationalist-mercantalist bombast against Chancellor Merkel et al. Although various members have a range of motivations, overall these sanctions reflect a long-evolving bipartisan resolve within Congress that this pipeline project, contrary to the objections of  the German government, is harmful to the energy security of Europe. Russia’s unrelenting cyber, military, assassination, election-interference and propaganda outrages only increases the sense of urgency in Congress.

It should be noted that this is a position supported by many other European allies, who also disagree with Berlin on this matter, and have actively fought to block or, with some successes, hinder the project via legal and political channels within the European Union.

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Will Germany decide to unfreeze relations with Russia after the pandemic? Czy Niemcy zdecydują się na odmrożenie relacji z Rosją po pandemii? [My interview]

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“”The chances of changing the sanction policy are small, as long as the current government exists (German government – ed.). If Vladimir Putin offered significant concessions to Ukraine, there would be great pressure in Berlin and Paris to lift certain sanctions” – emphasizes Thomas O’Donnell    Foto: Bundesregierung/Schacht

Polish journalist Artur Ciechanowicz asked me and four prominent German experts whether Germany will lift sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine:

Polish article in Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, May 6 GazetaPrawna.pl.  

English (via Google Translate):

The head of Russian diplomacy declared Moscow’s readiness to dialogue with Brussels, Berlin and other EU countries. We asked German experts if Germany would decide to reset

DGP conducted a survey among experts of think tanks in Germany, which largely determine the shape of the government’s foreign policy in Berlin. We asked about the offer, which has been formulated by representatives of the Russian authorities for the West for several months.  Sergei Lavrov at the Gorbachev Foundation recently argued that relations with the West should be thawed.  The head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that violated international law , annexing Crimea and triggering separatism in the Donbass in 2014, argued for the necessity of primacy of this law over the strength and indisputability of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of states. By the way, he created Russia as a key country in solving the problems facing Europe – above all the migration crisis.

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US Experts on German & EU Energy Vulnerabilities (My D.C. seminar)

Merkel and Obama at G7 - the main topic was Russia and Ukraine

Merkel and Obama at G7. Main topic was Russian threats to EU and Ukraine

An AICGS workshop with Dr. Thomas O’Donnell was held on May 27 in Washington, DC with a lively full-room attendance.

O’Donnell presented preliminary results of interviews he conducted in Washington during April and May to hear candid views of US energy-and-geopolitical experts on German and the EU energy policies.  The main topics were (1) European natural-gas vulnerabilities in light of the Ukraine crisis and dependence on Russian supplies and (2) implications of Germany’s commitment to a transition to renewable energy called the Energiewende.   Continue for Workshop PowerPoint & written Summary –>  Continue reading

USA Oil 3.0 | US energy experts on Europe, Russia & Ukraine

Note: I’m teaching a post-graduate course “The Global Oil System & US Policy” at JFK Institute of Freie U. in Berlin. In order to give students a feel for how US energy policy is developed–and to see the views of important US actors–I’m sending them frequent e-mails with supplemental readings and videos  from US think tanks, US government offices and from the US media on energy topics.

These are not my own in-depth analysis like I usually post on GlobalBarrel.com.  However I think they are worthwhile sharing with especially non-USA followers of my blog.  I’ll title these posts “USA OIL” plus a number to label them).  I hope these are useful.  Here’s today’s ‘optional material’ I sent to my students:

How is US energy policy developed? You might find this video of interest.

Some background: The CSIS (Center for Study of International Security) is a non-partisan (i.e., not Democratic or Republican) think tank in Washington, DC. It performs an important role in US foreign policy. Continue reading

PDVSA ships fuel to Syrian regime: Chavez risks sanctions?

[Edited Tues  630 EDT] The Negra Hipólita, a tanker operated by an affiliate of PDVSA, should be arriving at the Syrian port of Banias after a 15-17 day voyage from the Venezuelan refinery at Puerto La Cruz (El Universal, 17Feb12).

Syrian tanks are seen in Bab Amro near the city of Homs,12Feb12. Photo Reuters

Puerto La Cruz produces about 187k bbl/day and, the Negra Hipólito, if fully loaded, will deliver 47,000 (47k) tonnes of diesel fuel to alleviate reported widespread shortages of fuel in Syria. That’s about 330k barrels of fuel usable as home heating oil, or as fuel for Assad’s Russian tanks “indiscriminately” shelling neighborhoods, as in the city of Homs.  Note:

In Vienna, the U.N. chief demanded the Syrian regime stop using indiscriminate force against civilians caught up in fighting between government troops and Assad’s opponents. “We see neighborhoods shelled indiscriminately,” Ban told reporters. “Hospitals used as torture centers. Children as young as ten years old jailed and abused. We see almost certain crimes against humanity.” (Time World, Syrian Troops Shell Central City with Tanks. 17Feb12).

What, however, is the geopolitical significance of this shipment?  Let’s examine three issues:

  1. Chavez’ motivations: Why risk sanctions?
  2. Is this a significant material assistance to Assad’s regime?
  3. Has Chavez blundered by miscalculation? Continue reading
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