Category Archives: Uncategorized

China & Russia stick with Venezuela’s Maduro for the same reason the USA stuck with S. Viet Nam [My Energy Analytics Institute Q&A]

Venezuelan protest, 31 January 2019. Photo credit Deutsche Welle, German public broadcaster.

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.

Continue reading

Could Nord Stream 2 be axed? My guest appearance on Roundtable -TRT TV, London

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.

Continue reading

I tell DW TV: Nord Stream 2 is geopolitical. Berlin & Moscow aim to reroute Russia-to-EU gas around “insecure” Ukraine.

My DW Business live, with host Chris Kober, Feb 12,

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.)

Continue reading

The FT quotes my critique on: “German green foundation joins efforts to complete Nord Stream 2”

Baltic Sea Port of Mukran, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.. Logistic center for building Nord Stream 2 pipeline. – By Klugschnacker – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15320681

“This is either a conscious Russian disinformation scheme to collect supplies from naive firms, or it’s a really irresponsible move by the foundation,” said Thomas O’Donnell, energy and geopolitics analyst at Hertie School of Governance. (“German green foundation joins efforts to complete Nord Stream 2,” Financial Times, 21 Jan 2020, see here, or PDF here.)

The FT’s Erika Solomon interviewed me about the fake “climate-protection” foundation established by the legislature of the German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (German initials MV).  State officials stated intent is to help Gazprom, the Russian state gas monopoly, overcome US sanctions to finish building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Their new foundation is financed with €20 million from Gazprom (sole owner of Nord Stream 2 AG), and €200,000 from the state government.

The strategy is for the foundation to purchase “rare and hard to find” equipment Nord Stream 2 AG will need to finish the pipeline, but which firms cannot sell directly to it because of US sanctions against the project. MV politicians have called their foundation a “clever mechanism” to protect firms from sanctions.  According to the state’s energy minister, Mr. Christian Pegel (SPD), the foundation will be a “type of hardware-store shelf” (“Baumarktregal-Variante“) that then supplies the Gazprom operation. The strategy here is that with the “climate-protection” foundation acting as the middleman, German firms will both not deal directly with Gazprom’s sanctioned Nord Stream 2 project, and the foundation’s purchases will be completed “before the deadline” when sanctions are applied.  

However, there are no such loopholes to be exploited.

Continue reading

My interviews: Tagesspiegel & Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ). Nord Stream 2 won’t avoid US sanctions using a phony “environmental foundation.”

These two interviews critique the new “environmental foundation” founded by a local German state, and paid for 99% by Russia’s Gazrpom, as a self-described “clever loophole” to circumvent US sanctions. The publicly admitted scheme is to have the foundation purchase materials and equipment from the specialty companies able to supply them, and have the foundation later supply these materials directly to Gazprom, enabling Gazprom to finish building the pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea. The foundation” is telling firms this will protect them from being sanctioned for selling directly to Gazprom. However, the US sanctions specifically target “circumvention” of sanctions, and I explain that German firms are ill-advised or naïve to cooperate, risking ruinous sanctions.

  1. Tagesspiegel BackgroundNur Naive verkaufen an die Nord-Stream-2-Stiftung” by Jakob Schlandt, 8 January 2020. [“Only Naive (businesses) will sell to the Nord Stream 2 Foundation” Free registration required)
  2. Frankfurter Allegemine Zeitung (FAZ). “Umstrittene Gas Pipeline: Wird Nord Stream 2 am Freitag weitergebaut? By Katharina Wagner and Niklas Záboji, 13 January.2021.
    • Or, English via Google Translate:

CONTROVERSIAL GAS PIPELINE:Will Nord Stream 2 continue to be built on Friday?

The permit from Denmark has been received and new pipes for Nord Stream 2 could soon be laid. However, it is more questionable than ever whether the American sanctions threats can be circumvented.

The completion of Nord Stream 2 remains uncertain. 94 percent of the Baltic Sea gas pipeline has been laid, but the last few meters are still stuck. After the departure of the Dutch-Swiss laying vessels in December 2019, progress was only brief when 2.6 kilometers were erected a few weeks ago . It was not a breakthrough: the pipeline consists of two parallel strands with a total length of around 2,460 kilometers. 30 kilometers are still missing in German, 120 kilometers in Danish waters.

Theoretically, things could continue this week on Friday for the construction consortium Nord Stream 2 AG, a subsidiary of the Russian state group Gazprom. From January 15th it has a permit from the Danish Maritime Administration, and the Russian ship Fortuna is authorized for the work. But according to reports, only preliminary work is planned.

Use of Russian “letter box companies”?

Continue reading

My EuroNews #3: US Sanctions killing Nord Stream 2. Yet Berlin persists trying, with Moscow.

My 3rd EuroNews Nord Stream 2 sanctions interview, 6 January 2021 (After 30-seconds intro)

[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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Continue reading

My Al Jazeera comments: OPEC+ strikes delicate balance as UAE & Russia defy Saudis

Here’s an English transcript of my Al Jazeera comments on OPEC+ negotiations and some further remarks on the group’s agreement to raise production.
Good evening from Berlin.
Answer 1. Well, OPEC-Plus is faced with maintaining a very delicate balance.
On the one hand, demand in the Western world is down, its weak, while in the Eastern world, in Asia – in China and India – demand is relatively strong. And this is a complicating matter.
At the same time, in supply, in Libya, for example, the oil production is not under the [OPEC+] agreement and has been coming back on the market.
OPEC has been doing relatively well, in the last few months or so, of balancing the market. The question is, how to maintain this going forward, with its exports, how to balance supply with demand.
But what is appearing is not the big split between Russia and Saudi Arabia that we saw last year in the Oil Price War. Now we have differences … such as we see with the UAE [i.e., versus the Saudis]. The UAE would like, as we have seen, also Russia has said, an increase in production. That would be very difficult for other, more expensive producers to do at this point.
Answer 2: Yes. It does. I mean, of course the UAE has been getting a lot of press [about its demand to increase production], … so it is a matter of how serious the UAE is, and how serious the Russians are to want to raise production in some way.

Continue reading

My EuroNews live interview: Contrary to Moscow’s disinformation & bravado, Nord Stream 2 pipeline is dead.

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.

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”

BD74709B-4105-41E6-AB80-97377F9D6ADE_w1200_r1

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.

Continue reading