One day after the Senate almost unanimously passed a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia, an unexpected outcry against the US decision emerged from two of America’s closest allies, Germany and Austria, who yesterday slammed the new sanctions and accused the U.S. of having ulterior motives in seeking to enforce the energy blockade, which they said is trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. And they warned the threat of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations.”
Today’s the unexpected fallout from the latest round of US sanctions has escalated, and according to Reuters, Germany has threatened to retaliate against the United States if the new US sanctions on Russia end up penalizing German firms, which they almost will as it foresees punitive measures against entities that provide material support to Russia in building energy export pipelines. Such as Germany, Austria and host of other European nations. Berlin is concerned that if passed in the House, the sanctions will pave way for fines against German and European firms involved in Nord Stream 2, a project to build a pipeline carrying Russian gas across the Baltic.
And it’s not jet the Germans who are sweating: among the European companies involved in the project are German oil and gas giant Wintershall, German energy trading firm Uniper, Royal Dutch Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie. In other words, if the Senate proposed sanctions pass, the US will have to fine virtually every energy giant in Europe.
Quoted by Reuters, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert described the Senate bill, which must be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by Trump before it becomes law, as “a peculiar move”. He said it was “strange” that sanctions intended to punish Russia for alleged interference in the U.S. elections could also trigger penalties against European companies. “That must not happen,” said Seibert.
Confirming the seriousness of Germany’s resolve, in an interview with Reuters, German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries said “Berlin would have to think about counter-measures” if Trump backed the plan. “If he does, we’ll have to consider what we are going to do against it.”
The unexpectedly sharp response from Germany comes at a time of deep strain in the transatlantic relationship due to shifts in U.S. policy and a more confrontational rhetoric towards Europe under Trump, who has not only demanded more funding for NATO, slammed Germany over its trade balance and cheap currency but also most recently exited Europe’s precious Paris climate treaty, Ironically, the part of the bill that threatens to impaire the already precarious relations with Europe was introduced by some of the president’s top critics, including Republican hawk John McCain.
As Reuters notes, “they are intent on limiting Trump’s ability to forge warmer ties with Russia, a key foreign policy pledge during his campaign for the presidency, but one he has been unable to deliver on amid investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.” Judging by Germany’s response this attempt to further alienate Russia may backfire dramatically, not only alieanting Berlin but bringing Europe and Russia closer, now that the Qatar gas pipeline – courtesy of Saudi Arabia – is a non-starter.
Back to Zypries who continued to lash out at the US saying “I regret that the joint approach of Europe and the United States on Russia and sanctions has been undermined and abandoned in this way.”
What she may not understand is that in the US – at least for the vast majority of the media – the only thing that matters now is the anti-Russia narrative, and Congress will do anything to perpetuate that. If that means hurting the income statement of a handful of “ally” corporations, so be it: there are newspapers to sell, after all.
In addition to Germany, France and the European Commission also urged the United States to coordinate with its partners on such matters. “For several years, we have underlined to the United States the difficulties that extraterritorial legislation spark,” a French foreign ministry spokesman told reporters.
Finally, some European diplomats said they fear the threat of new measures out of Washington may harden Germany’s defense of Nord Stream and complicate already difficult talks among EU nations over whether to seek joint talks with Russia over the pipeline. “This is not helpful now. It tends to stir up desires to protect our territorial space,” one EU diplomat said, clearly another European who does not understand that when it comes to promoting US policy, whatever it may be, foreign sovereignty – even that of friendly nations – is never a concern.
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