Germany bristles at US sanctions threat over Russia pipeline

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, 21 July 2020. [EPA-EFE/YANNIS KOLESIDIS]

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday (10 August) he had expressed “displeasure” to his US counterpart Mike Pompeo about Washington’s threat of sanctions against a German port over a gas pipeline from Russia.

Speaking in Berlin as transatlantic tensions spike, Maas was asked by a reporter about a letter last week from three US senators, which pledged tough sanctions against the operators of a key German port involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“I mentioned it in a telephone call with (Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo yesterday and expressed my surprise and displeasure,” he said.

Nord Stream 2, a €10 billion pipeline near completion beneath the Baltic Sea, is set to double Russian natural gas shipments to Germany, the EU’s largest economy.

US President Donald Trump last year signed legislation targeting contractors working on Nord Stream 2 and another Russian gas project, TurkStream, which goes through the Black Sea.

US senators move to tighten sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream

US senators announced a bill on Thursday (4 June) expanding sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream natural gas pipelines and targeting the projects Washington says will boost Moscow’s economic and political influence in Germany and other European countries.

But while those sanctions focused on technical assistance, the separate Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act lays out harsh measures that can include severing access to the US financial system.

Pompeo announced guidelines last month stipulating that German companies could suffer sanctions even for small investments in the project.

Germany had voiced anger over the earlier sanctions law, saying that it interfered in its internal affairs.

But Ukraine, Poland and Baltic states fear that Nord Stream 2 will further embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin by giving Moscow more control over crucial energy flows.

Germany, despite political differences with Russia, sees Nord Stream 2 as ensuring a more stable and cleaner source of energy as it pivots away from coal and nuclear power.

Berlin is a longstanding ally of the US, but Trump has tense relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, once berating her as “captive” to Russia.

The Sassnitz port is located in Merkel’s electoral district, which German media interpreted as a personal affront to the veteran leader.

Meanwhile, Trump recently approved plans to pull 9,500 US troops from Germany, accusing Berlin of treating the United States unfairly on trade while not paying enough as a NATO ally for defence.

Pentagon to shift US troops from Germany to Belgium, Italy

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined plans on Wednesday (29 July) to take thousands of US troops out of Germany by shifting some of the forces to Italy and Belgium, ending weeks of uncertainty over US troop withdrawal strategy in Europe.

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