Germany, EU fume at US ‘interference’ over Russian gas pipeline

Germany on Saturday accused the United States of interfering in its internal affairs, in an increasingly angry spat over Washington's decision to impose sanctions on companies involved with a major project to supply western Europe with Russian gas.

Germany, EU fume at US 'interference' over Russian gas pipeline
A file photo showing Nord Stream 2 construction. Photo: DPA

Moscow and the European Union also issued statements criticising the sanctions, a day after President Donald Trump signed off on asset freezes and visa restrictions on those involved in the Nord Stream 2 project.

US lawmakers are seeking to stymie what they regard as an increasing reliance on Russian energy in western Europe by targeting the project, which aims to double the amount of Russian natural gas reaching Germany via a pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The sanctions target contractors working to lay pipes for Nord Stream 2 –a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) project expected to be completed in early 2020 — and another Russian gas project, TurkStream.

Full details of the sanctions have not yet been released and US officials have 60 days to disclose the names of the companies and individuals concerned.

In the first sign that the sanctions were beginning to bite, Swiss contractor Allseas suspended its Nord Stream 2 activities while it awaited clarification from the US authorities.

However, Nord Stream 2 said in reaction to the statement from Allseas that it would continue to work until the pipeline was finished.

Although US Congress overwhelmingly backed the sanctions, there was criticism from some lawmakers of a move that in effect punishes NATO allies such as Germany.

The move brought angry reactions from Berlin, Moscow and Brussels on Saturday.

An EU spokesman said the bloc was opposed “as a matter of principle to the imposition of sanctions against European companies engaged in legal activities”.

The German government reacted most forcefully, with Chancellor AngelaMerkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer saying Berlin rejected “these sorts of extra-territorial sanctions”.

“They will hit German and European companies and constitute an interference in our internal affairs,” she said.

Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the sanctions were an infringement of sovereignty.

However, he said there would not be a tit-for-tat reaction, telling GermanTV: “It is up to the companies involved in the construction of the pipeline to take the next decisions.”

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the UnitedStates of pushing an ideology that hindered global trade, adding on her Facebook page: “Soon they will demand that we stop breathing.”

But the United States is not the only nation to question the project –Ukraine, Poland and some Baltic nations have also expressed doubts.

“Despite the involvement in the Nord Stream 2 project of companies from some EU countries, this pipeline has never been a European or EU project,” said Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski, quoted by the PAP news agency.

“Instead, it remains an instrument for the realisation of Russian economic and, potentially, military policy.”

Ukraine had worried that the new pipeline would cut it out of the gas supply business and allow Russia to ratchet up pressure.

And Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said on Twitter that he welcomed the sanctions against a “politically motivated” project.

US lawmakers had cited support of Kiev as part of their justification for imposing sanctions.

But Demmer said this rationale was “particularly incomprehensible” because Moscow and Kiev reached an agreement in principle last week that will regulate the transit of Russian gas to Ukraine from 2020.

More than 80 percent of the undersea pipeline has been completed for the project — half-financed by Russia's state-owned Gazprom, with the other half paid for by five European companies.

READ ALSO: Germany goes ahead with gas pipeline despite US protests

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Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest

Work looks set to resume on the controversial NordStream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Germany despite a fresh protest from the United States on Saturday.

Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest
Unused pipeline at Mukran Port in north Germany. Photo: AFP

German shipping authorities have issued an advisory for the Baltic Sea area where the final few kilometres of the pipeline are set to be laid, warning vessels to avoid the zone from December 5-31.

Ship-tracking website also shows Russian pipe-laying ships Fortuna and Akademik Cherskiy moving towards the area.

These indications coincided with a statement from the acting US ambassador to Germany calling on Berlin and the EU to halt construction of the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) pipeline, which is also opposed by many eastern European states.

“Now is the time for Germany and the EU to impose a moratorium on the construction of the pipeline,” acting ambassador Robin Quinville told business daily Handelsblatt.

This would send a signal to Russia that Europe was not willing to accept “its ongoing malicious behaviour”, the diplomat said.

“The pipeline is not only an economic project, but also a political tool that the Kremlin is using to bypass Ukraine and divide Europe.”

Many critics

Nord Stream 2 is a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline that will run beneath the Baltic Sea and is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe's largest economy.

It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, particularly by the Trump administration which has openly criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

Work has been suspended for nearly a year because of US sanctions signed off by Trump in late 2019 that threaten asset freezes and visa restrictions for companies involved in the construction work.

As well as Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake, the international consortium involved in the project includes European players such as Germany's Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British giant Shell, France's Engie and Austria's OMV.

Trump has said Germany is “a captive to Russia” because of its energy policy.

Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states are also fiercely opposed to the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy supplies, which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has face criticism in Germany for backing the project and there was speculation that she might withdraw support following the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

Navalny was treated in a Berlin hospital and German authorities concluded that he had been poisoned with a rare Novichok nerve agent developed by Russian authorities, plunging relations with the Kremlin to a new low.

In September when asked if the poisoning could affect Nordstream 2, Merkel's spokesman replied: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”

A Nordtream 1 pipeline, which runs along a similar route to Nordstream 2, was inaugurated in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Denmark hails new German doubts on Russian gas pipeline