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 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.
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.