Category Archives: US Foreign Policy

My TRT StraightTalk: Nord Stream 2: Europe’s Energy crisis, Putin’s lever, Ukraine’s plight, & Berlin’s complicity

StraitTalk, 8 October. My comments (from Berlin) begin at 2:30, with Aura Sabadus of ICIS (in London) and TRT’s Ause Suberker interviewing (in Stockholm).

On Friday, 8 October, I was interviewed, with Aura Sabadus (@ASabadus) of ICIS-London, about Nord Stream 2’s impact on European energy politics on”Strait Talk” with TRT host Ayse Suberker.  We discussed the geopolitical aims of Russian and German leaders for partnering on this pipeline. 

I stressed, the issue is not whether Europe is dependent on Russian gas – it is and it will remain so for the foreseeable future for up to 40% of its imports. The issue is what route this gas takes to arrive from Russia into Europe

Consider: Russia historically exported 80% of the gas it sends to Europe using massive Soviet-era pipelines transiting Ukraine, the remainder via a Belarus-Poland-Germany pipeline. However, for 20 years Continue reading

My Warsaw Op-Ed: Nord Stream 2 deal marks a German win in setting allied strategy on Russia & Ukraine | Niemcy nie boją się Rosji. Boją się ryzyka płynącego z Ukrainy.

My Op-Ed on German motives for Nord Stream 2 appeared in the Dziennik Gazeta Pravwna 4 Aug. 2021 (no. 149 dziennik.pl, forsal.pl), derived from an English interview (below here) with Artur Ciechanowiicz (PAP, Brussels). [Polish Op-Ed link]

Read the Polish Op-Ed (PDF) “Germany is not afraid of Russia. It fears risks coming from Ukraine”

Here is my full English interview, expanded for clarity:

1) [AC] What are the consequences of the Nord Stream 2 deal between Washington and Berlin?

[T O’D] Stepping back a bit: this deal marks a victory by Berlin in its long and intensifying contest with its ally, the USA, over which of these two biggest transatlantic powers will decide the alliance’s strategy with respect to Russia and China. The two allies deeply disagree on this matter.

In the USA, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed since the Obama administration that “Great Power Competition” must be the strategy for the alliance versus Russia and China. The Americans strongly feel it is necessary to “decouple” from globalism’s deep trade and tech integration with China and Russia, that these states must either change their disrespect for global trade rules and moderate their increasingly aggressive geopolitical activities, or be isolated and forcibly contained.

Germany, with almost 50% of its GDP from global trade, deeply disagrees with this US strategy [i.e., German exports provide 46.9% of GDP, the USA’s only 11.7%]. Berlin likes global rules; but its unbalanced economy cannot afford trade decoupling and it broadly opposes forceful military containment of China and Russia. Instead, it wants only negotiations and occasional sanctions.

So, Nord Stream 2 is an iconic example of this clash, this “leadership fight” between the USA and Germany over the transatlantic alliance’s strategy towards Russia. Berlin wants to maintain energy ties at all costs, while the USA has long advocated maximum European energy independence from Russia, and to constrain Russia (and defend Ukraine) by forcing Putin to continue having to send gas across Ukraine to reach his European customers.

Russia, for its part, wants to re-incorporate former-Soviet Ukraine [plus Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, and minimally keep them outside of the EU and NATO], and has wanted to avoid having to send its gas to Europe via Ukraine. Moscow’s transit dependence on Ukraine not only provided income for Ukraine, this constrained Russian subversion and military aggression there, for fear that the transit pipelines could be interrupted by either Ukrainian state or non-state actors.

For Germany, the “insecurity” of having to import Russian gas through Ukraine deeply alarmed Berlin. And so it made a strategic decision over 20 years ago to partner with Russia, to build new pipelines to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany [via Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2] and on to European customers long supplied with the same Russian gas but via Ukraine. The aim was to make Germany the new hub for distribution of Russian gas in Europe.

Given Berlin’s logic, the 2014 Russian war on Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea only made it more sure than ever of the dangers of relying on Russian gas imports that have to transit Ukraine, and it redoubled its efforts to complete NS2, notwithstanding this would undermine German relations with three consecutive US administrations and with many of its EU allies, esp. Poland and East-Central Europe – a region where its much-prized soft power has been sacrificed.

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My TRT TV | Biden’s Nord Stream 2 sanction waiver: Merkel’s price for unity before his Putin summit

It was my pleasure to be with Thierry Bros of Sciences Po University, Paris, and Peter Zalmayev, Ukrainian security analyst and executive director of Eurasian Democracy Initative on David Foster’s Roundtable on TRT World, London, broadcast 9 June 2021.

I discussed Biden’s apparent reasoning for waiving Nord Stream 2 sanctions:

First off, the German government of Angela Merkel simply would not cooperate otherwise. Allowing her pet energy project to go forward was the price she had demanded for trans-Atlantic “unity” before Biden’s summit with Putin.

(Aside: My research in Berlin and elsewhere has convinced me that, at no point from the late-Trump administration through Biden’s six months in office, did the German side actually engage in any meaningful “negotiation” or discussions with the US side to seek to find some compromise or to initiate a moratorium on construction. Not until Biden waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, and decided not to sanction any German firms inolved in construction did Merkel show any real interest in discussions. She emphasized her change of attitude on negotiating with Biden about: “what now are also the necessary commonalities in the relationship with Russia” in comments during a German national broadcast interview immediately following Biden’s sanctions waiver. Until this waiver, she had held up any real discussion of the pressing issues of trans-Atlantic unity-in-general, whcih urgently needed attention.

This, IMHO, again indicates the correctness of my assessment of the depth of the split in US-German relations that has festered since at least the Obama administration. See Nord Stream 2: Berlin-Washington Mutual Intransigence Shows Transatlantic Divide on Russia | My AICGS Analysis October 10, 2020)

Secondly, as the EU and NATO allies all realize, Biden has to have this summit with Putin for a number of reasons. As I indicated on the show, the summit is needed to discuss:

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My EuroNews: Why didn’t Biden sanction Nord Steam 2 AG or German firms? The Biden-Putin Summit. Berlin-Moscow gas-alliance kills US climate partnership.

Here are four issues on the Biden-Blinkin sanctions decision I discussed with EuroNews and other news media in the last few days:

-1- Regarding Biden’s waiving of sanctions on the company Nord Stream 2 AG and its head Matthias Warnig (former Stazi officer)​:

These sanctions would be unlikely to stop NS2​, though it would cause difficulty for the firm and the European oil and gas firms that are partnering with it​.  

I am not surprised, however, in light of the upcoming Biden-Putin summit. It should be noted that​ the Russian side (e.g., their ambassador here in Berlin) has made clear, publicly, that sanctions would kill the Biden-Putin summit — which both sides need on many hot issues​ (see my comments of yesterday, on Iran negotiations, and US necessity to withdraw on-the-ground forces from the Middle East​, and to focus on “Great Power Competition” vs. especially China, and Russia).

-2- As for effect of the new sanctions on the pipeline’s construction, and what options the US has: 

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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.

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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.

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My EuroNews Q&A: All German parties back Nord Stream 2 except Greens; USA says it frees Putin to subvert Ukraine & Belarus

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.

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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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