The reaction of some European countries to the US sanctions legislation was considerably sharper than that of Russia. As elaborated in the June Review, the Act would allow the US to sanction any company (including a foreign one) involved in the maintenance or development of Russia’s energy export pipelines. Increasing US LNG exports to Europe is explicitly stated as one of its objectives This would impact, not only on construction of the major Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, but also the maintenance and upgradation of other pipelines, in most of which German, French, Dutch and Austrian companies would be involved. The French and German governments made critical statements. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker threatened counter-sanctions on the United States if European concerns are not met, asserting, ‘America First’ cannot mean that Europe's interests come last”.
Central European countries were, however, conspicuously silent on the US legislation. Many oppose Nord Stream 2 and strongly advocate reduction of European dependence on Russian gas – with both commercial and strategic motivations. Twelve eastern and central European countries located between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic Seas, have grouped together in the “Three Seas Initiative” to cooperate in this effort. Significantly, President Trump, on his visit to Warsaw, ahead of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, addressed a summit meeting (July 6) of the Initiative, urging them to import more LNG from the United States. Poland, which has effectively assumed the leadership mantle of the Initiative, plans to establish LNG terminals, which would transform it into a major gas hub for Europe, just as Germany aspires to be a gas hub with Russian gas.
The ingredients are, therefore, in place for a new rift in Europe, similar to that caused by the Iraq war of 2003, with the added uncertainty about the Brexit outcomes. Russia will obviously try to shape this debate to its best advantage.
July 30, 2017