The U.S. is starting to fret about the imminent completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the second of two underwater gas pipelines running from the Russian Baltic city of Ust-Luga to Greifswald, Germany, and has begun issuing informal threats of repercussions to companies who are backing the nearly-finished project.
According to unnamed sources, at least a dozen American officials from three separate departments held video conference calls with European contractors working on the pipeline, while U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo reportedly warned private European backers of “risk[ing] the consequences” of continuing their support for the key energy infrastructure project.
Several European energy concerns, such as France’s Engie, Germany’s Wintershall Dea and Uniper and Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell have indirect financial ties to the massive $11.7 billion-dollar underwater oil pipeline being constructed by Russia’s partially state-owned Gazprom, which will double Russia’s oil export capacity to Europe and seriously infringe on Atlanticist designs over the old continent.
Only six percent of the 1,200-mile pipeline remains to be laid in Danish waters, which is stalled due to U.S. sanctions against the European contractors working on that particular stretch. However, Denmark has recently circumvented the sanctions by licensing different vessels, and construction is set to resume by September.
Gazprom CEO, Alexei Miller disregarded claims that U.S. sanctions would stop the project from being completed, and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the pipeline would be commissioned before the end of this year. The completion of the Russian pipeline would mean a practical end to the viability of American LNG exports to Europe; a fate the U.S. has been trying to avoid since the project’s beginning in 2012.
US economic warfare
On July 15, the U.S. State Department updated its public guidance on sanctions against Russia and singled the pipeline project, imposing “sanctions on “a person” that “knowingly” invests in Russian energy export pipelines, or that sells Russia goods, technology or services for such pipelines where certain monetary thresholds are met.”
The revised Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) reverses previous stipulations, which contained explicit exemptions for any pipeline projects that were signed before the sanctions were made law. Nord Stream 2 falls within this category and given that the investment threshold for triggering sanctions is relatively low, practically “any significant work done to advance the Nord Stream II pipeline” could be at risk of being targeted by U.S. economic warfare.
The potential ramifications of the new guidance are significant in light of Germany’s clear interest in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project as well as their recent ascent to several key leadership roles within NATO and the EU. Tensions between the U.S. and Germany regarding the Atlanticist organization – punctuated by Trump’s intention to withdraw U.S. troops from the Teuton nation – have started to rise as a result of the pipeline’s unique potential to diminish American influence over its European partners.
The end of NATO
German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, admitted that the relationship between his country and the U.S. while remaining cordial, was now “complicated.” Meanwhile, a member of the German Bundestag (parliament), Christian Schmidt, called for the resumption of talks surrounding the inclusion of Russia into NATO; a topic that was last seriously considered in the 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Such rhetoric coming from a key U.S. ally in Europe and a vital NATO member could be the canary in the coal mine for an eventual trade war between the U.S. and the EU. In addition to Schmidt, who was Germany’s Minister of food and agriculture and the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, a group of German MPs have outright stated that the revised CAATSA targeting the Nord Stream 2 project was nothing less than a “threat to European sovereignty.”
America’s unilateral strategy of economic aggression against its traditional allies in Europe is facilitated by its position as the number one trading partner of Europe and its second provider of goods and services after China. But the pressure to bow down to Washington’s dictates is starting to fray the boundaries of diplomacy and the threat of an actual trade war between the U.S. and Europe is becoming a strong possibility.
Even the Atlantic Council, a U.S.-controlled think tank for NATO policy, is beginning to question whether the military alliance “will still be relevant in the future” in a recent article recapping a debate similarly titled “Is NATO still relevant?.” The panelists were mostly of the same mindset when it came to the diminishing importance of the post-war Atlanticist alliance from the American perspective and making the argument that it no longer served U.S. “defense needs.”
Participants stressed China’s preeminent role as America’s new main antagonist and expressed skepticism over NATO countries’ willingness to provide any “military assistance” in U.S. efforts to contain China. “I don’t dislike NATO,” said Chicago University Professor, John Mearsheimer, “but we live in a completely different world. For most of my life, Europe was the most important area of the world. That’s no longer the case. The distribution of power has changed. Asia is the area that really matters the most to the United States today. The question is, what can Europe do [about China]? What can NATO do? My argument is it can do hardly anything. We have to wake up and smell the coffee.”
Feature photo | Tubes are stored in Sassnitz, Germany, to construct the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from Russia to Germany, Dec. 6, 2016. Jens Buettner | DPA via AP
Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.
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