U.S. misses op­por­tu­ni­ties to stop Rus­sian-Ger­man gas pipe­line

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

De­spite years of be­hind-the-scenes ca­jol­ing and open threats of eco­nomic sanc­tions from two U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions, Washington ap­pears to have failed to dis­suade Ger­many from mov­ing ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipe­line — and Moscow now boasts that the mas­sive Rus­sia-to-Europe project is just months from com­ple­tion.

An­a­lysts say the U.S. missed key op­por­tu­ni­ties over the past five years to stop the pipe­line, which crit­ics fear will form the back­bone of a work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ger­many and Rus­sia that could strain NATO, un­der­cut a strug­gling Ukraine, and threaten the en­ergy se­cu­rity of the U.S. and its al­lies in Eastern Europe.

It’s not a func­tion of the fa­mously frosty re­la­tions be­tween Pres­i­dent Trump and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. Pres­i­dent Obama and his aides also ex­pressed doubts about the project with­out per­suad­ing Berlin to re­con­sider.

At sev­eral ma­jor in­flec­tion points since 2014, the U.S. might have been able to ex­ploit po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions in Ger­many and global anger to­ward Rus­sia to either stop the project in its tracks or help turn pub­lic opin­ion against it so that it would no longer be po­lit­i­cally vi­able.

At each of those points, how­ever, Washington has been un­able to break through.

Top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials now ac­knowl­edge that their ef­forts have fallen flat and say the U.S. could pur­sue eco­nomic sanc­tions against Ger­man com­pa­nies that have done noth­ing to slow the project’s progress.

“The Ger­mans ap­pear in­tent on con­tin­u­ing to build that pipe­line,” Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told a Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee hear­ing this month. “We had done just about all we can to dis­cour­age the Euro­peans, pri­mar­ily Ger­mans, from build­ing Nord Stream 2, and we’ve done that with­out suc­cess to­day.”

Mr. Trump’s frus­tra­tions with the pipe­line boiled over mem­o­rably at a rocky Brus­sels sum­mit in July when he com­plained to NATO Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Jens Stoltenber­g that Ger­many was now “to­tally con­trolled by Rus­sia.”

“We’re sup­posed to pro­tect you from Rus­sia, but Ger­many is mak­ing pipe­line deals with Rus­sia,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “You tell me if that’s ap­pro­pri­ate. Ex­plain that.”

The pipe­line, con­ceived by Rus­sia’s state-owned Gazprom with fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments from other ma­jor in­ter­na­tional play­ers such as Royal Dutch Shell, is ex­pected to be com­pleted by the end of the year. Rus­sian of­fi­cials said this month that about 621 miles of pipe­line have been fin­ished. When com­pleted, Nord Stream 2 is ex­pected to stretch about 745 miles from the Rus­sian city of Vy­borg, near the bor­der with Fin­land to Greif­swald in north­east­ern Ger­many.

Crit­ics warn that the project will give Rus­sia an even more dom­i­nant role as an The 745-mile Nord Stream 2 oil pipe­line, which will pump Rus­sian oil di­rectly to Ger­many, is near­ing com­ple­tion de­spite open op­po­si­tion from the U.S. gov­ern­ment and con­cerns from other Euro­pean states that it will in­crease the Krem­lin’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal lever­age in the West. en­ergy sup­plier to Europe, which Moscow could wield as a geopo­lit­i­cal weapon by threat­en­ing to raise prices or cut off sup­plies. Rus­sia last year sent about 7 tril­lion cu­bic feet of nat­u­ral gas to Europe — ac­count­ing for about 40% of the con­ti­nent’s to­tal sup­ply — and Nord Stream 2 could dou­ble that amount, its ar­chi­tects say.

Eastern Euro­pean na­tions such as Poland, with deep-seated his­tor­i­cal fears of ris­ing Rus­sian in­flu­ence, have been among the most vo­cal within the Euro­pean Union against Nord Stream 2, but their ar­gu­ments have not pre­vailed.

The pipe­line also will de­liver a huge fi­nan­cial wind­fall for Ger­many, which will be trans­formed into a Euro­pean en­ergy hub.

With the project near­ing com­ple­tion, an­a­lysts say, the Euro­pean coun­tries back­ing Nord Stream, led by Ger­many and Aus­tria, have ef­fec­tively backed the U.S. into a geopo­lit­i­cal cor­ner.

“The re­al­ity is that Ger­many and Aus­tria have left lit­tle choice to the United States in terms of stop­ping this thing, ex­cept with sanc­tions,” said Alina Polyakova, a for­eign pol­icy fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion who has stud­ied the pipe­line ex­ten­sively.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The first Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas is ex­pected to flow di­rectly to Ger­many through the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipe­line at the end of the year. A third of the ca­ble have been laid.

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