Category Archives: Russia

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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EE UU v. Alemania: Sanciones y el oleoducto ruso Nord Stream 2 | Fui invitado en “El Fundo” de DW TV

capture.-dw-ns2-15aug20aAquí abajo se puedan ver la grabación de la tortulia del 15 de agosto entre dos expertos y yo en el programa “El Fondo” de la red alemana de Deutschewelle (DE.de TV) sobre “la lucha entre aliados” de los EE. UU. y Alemania en la que Washington ha amenazado con fuertes sanciones contra su aliado de la OTAN, Berlín, por su participación en el proyecto del gasoducto ¨Nord Stream 2¨ con Rusia.  Gracias a DW y su moderadora venezolana Silvia Cabrera.

El video: https://www.dw.com/embed/640/av-54570546 |  Descargar MP4 |  Enlace permanente https://p.dw.com/p/3gyI6

Tenga en cuenta que estas no son sanciones del presidente Trump, sino sanciones impuestas por el Congreso en contra de los deseos de Trump y con el amplio apoyo de ambos partidos. Hay mucha ira en el Congreso contra Rusia por sus malas actividades en Europa en materia de suministro de gas natural al continente por parte de Moscú de forma geoestratégica, pero también por su invasión de Ucrania en 2014, y sus extensas actividades contra las democracias del Oeste.

Para Estados Unidos, este proyecto es una peligrosa colaboración de Alemania con Rusia contra los intereses y la independencia energética de la UE y especialmente de Ucrania, un país con partes de su territorio ocupadas por Rusia desde 2014.

De la propaganda del programa El Fondo de DW.de:

“¡Extorsión!” “¡Guerra comercial!” que traería gas de Rusia a Alemania. ¿Se dañará la relación entre Alemania y Estados Unidos? ¿Definirá Estados Unidos la política energética alemana?

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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My interview: on US troops redeployed in Germany & Poland | O’Donnell: Żołnierze u granic Rosji to sygnał dla Kremla [Wywiad]

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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

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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Oil Price War 3: My AlJazeera spot on negative price, Putin’s rout, shale, and Trump’s dilemma: independents v big oil

The 24.04 video: Aljazeera asked me about negative prices and we got into storage, Putin’s huge blunder in launching the price war, the fate of US shale, and the dilemma faced by Trump and the Texas Railway Commission on cutting US production: there’s no way to please both the independent US producers and the big US international oil companies.  One or the other is going will be very upset. (Note: English audio record replaces original Arabic here. Thanks to AlJazeera for the clip.)

Facing urgent oil-cut decision, Trump & Texas Railway Commission dither

Let me expand a bit on this point I made at the end of the interview: Trump is dithering as the day of reckoning approaches – the day when US oil’s physical storage is full.  Then it won’t be just the WTI Nymex futures price going negative overnight, the physical, spot market would go negative and freeze up.

So, either Trump has to invoke national security and use federal powers to order proportional, across-the-board cuts nationally, or the Texas Railway Commission and its Continue reading

Decoding the Oil Price War 2: My Wikistrat webinar “Oil Price War & COVID Crisis” transcript

covid-oil_war_2bd-cropped-graphic_wikistrat_12apr20_captureMy Wikistrat webinar transcript “Oil Price War & COVID” from a couple weeks ago is now available on their website as a PDF.  Issues discussed include:

  • Why did Moscow declare the “war”? [Note: Putin & Sechin’s initial boasts Russia would hold out for “years”, kill shale & end sanctions all stopped in only a couple days!]
  • The Saudi response was sharply focused against Russian oil-pipeline markets in W Europe (Druzhba) & Asia.  [I believe this focused Mr. Putin’s attention on economic realities as opposed to Mr. Sechin’s anger-driven desire for revenge against US sanctions that had inflated his (self-)image of Rosneft and Russian oil-market prowess when up against a concerted Saudi counter-war, and the prospects of various US responses.  Reports are that Putin spend three days on the phone to undo this fiasco and, in the end, had to accept significant cuts to Russian output.  See my GlobalBarrel.com post of last week explaining the initial, flawed Russian strategy.]
  • The options Trump had to choose from undermine his long antipathy to OPEC. (Did he secretly offer Putin any Nord Stream 2, Ukraine or Venezuela sanctions relief? If so, Congress won’t approve.) Also: Big Oil (American Petroleum Institute) and W. Texas/other independent producers are pulling at Trump in two very different policy directions re. OPEC, tariffs, production controls, etc
  • And more (esp. in the Q&A): probable impact on carbon mitigation policies, the China market for LNG, US shale’s financial and production future, etc.

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Decoding the Oil Price War 1: Moscow seized COVID crisis to hit US shale, force sanctions relief

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The “Oil Price War of 2020” was launched at the worst possible time.  The COVID-19 pandemic was spreading to the world beyond China, promising to kill tens-of-thousands, and bring a global economic collapse.

However, this war was not preordained. Things could have gone otherwise from the start.  It was a decision, a sort of Pearl-Harbor-esque surprise attack, announced by Russian minister of energy, Alexander Novak, upon his arriving late to the OPEC-plus summit hall in Vienna on March 6.

If Moscow now abandons its all-out war on US shale, it will be because Putin has miscalculated.  He was willing to increase the pain for everyone else by exploiting the COVID-19 energy crisis in a half-baked attempt to get out from under the US sanctions.  However, the unanticipated repercussions might get too hot for Moscow.

The facts about why Putin decided to launch this oil price war are important to decode.  A key aspect to understand is that Moscow’s game plan was to blame the Saudis; and it soon began a disinformation campaign saying the Saudis launched the war.

We shall see, below and in future posts, how this blame-shifting is a stratagem designed to manipulate a section of US politicians and especially independent US oil producers, who traditionally hold strong, anti-Saudi sentiments (to be clear: they have good reasons to hold these anti-Saudi views), to preferentially sympathize with Russia against the Saudis and to lobby Trump and Congress to give Moscow relief from US sanctions.

Whether this Oil War strategy of Moscow can, at least in part, succeed in freeing Russia from US sanctions is not clear.  But, Moscow’s is highly motivated to succeed due to the significant constraints these sanctions are imposing on Russia.  They include sanctions in retaliation for its war against Ukraine, since 2014, which have undermined expansion of Russia’s domestic oil and gas sector; sanctions which have stalled Russian-German plans to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; and sanctions on Rosneft’s efforts to sustain the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela.

Today, as explained below, I would say the odds are against Moscow’s success, with the plan bordering on adventurism.  The Saudi’s initial response, in so far as it specifically targets Russia’s oil business, is rational; however, by de facto joining the Russian oil price war on US shale,  the Saudis will also provoke a backlash from powerful US oil-business and political interests, which is likely precisely what Putin and Igor Sechin hoped to bait the Saudis’ Prince MbS into doing.

Considering the pain the world is already suffering, Putin and Sechin’s callous game to exploit the COVID-19 oil-market crisis must be seen for what it is.  Most especially, one should not acquiesce to Moscow’s disinformation campaign to shift the blame elsewhere.

In Vienna: Who started the price war?

For weeks, Riyadh had aggressively lobbied the 10 OPEC and 11 non-OPEC members of the OPEC-plus alliance to agree to a major production cut.  This alliance had been born in 2016, of a newfound, market-dictated, yet grudging, Russian-Saudi mutual recognition of the reality that only such a large-scale collective effort could begin to get control of a market in long-term oversupply.  By December 2019, their OPEC-plus group had Continue reading

Europe’s Gas Crunch:  The Pending Crisis Around Nordstream 2 & Ukraine Transit

My public talk in Washington, 12 June:

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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

RSVP Now

Wednesday, June 12, 2019
2:00pm-3:00pm  –   5th Floor Conference Room

Directions

Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building and
International Trade Center
One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania, Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20004   Phone: 202.691.4000    kennan@wilsoncenter.org

Washington interviews: Energy Relations of Russia, Germany, Poland & Ukraine (Kennan Fellow)

g7-trump-merkel-round-9jun18-jezco_denzel_ger_gov_photo.jpgWhat 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). putin_wink-round-hnewkremlinstooge-wordpress

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

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