Wednesday

20th Jun 2018

Russia pipeline is security 'threat', US diplomat says

  • The Nord Stream II pipeline is designed to divide the EU, Shub said (Photo: turkstream.info)

Russia’s Nord Stream II gas pipeline is a threat to European security, a US diplomat has said, amid calls for the European Commission to intervene.

Adam Shub, the deputy US ambassador to the EU, in Brussels on Tuesday (6 December), mentioned the Russian-German project amid other instruments he said Russia was using to “create division” in Europe and to erode “shared transatlantic values”.

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  • EU Commission has stalled on appeals for a legal assessment (Photo: European Commission)

He said the armed conflict in Ukraine was “just the front line” in the “malign action”, which extended also to the EU and the Western Balkans.

“There are [Russian] attempts to influence the policy debate, support for political parties, we know that, in the European Parliament, for NGOs … attempts to acquire assets on the energy front, Nord Stream - these are threats to Europe and to transatlantic security”, he said.

Shub spoke at a conference organised by the Ceps think tank.

The Nord Stream II pipeline is a Russian project to double gas supplies to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and central European states.

Shub’s reference to Russian funding of political parties comes after revelations that France’s anti-EU National Front party, for one, received Russian loans, and amid Russia’s anti-EU propaganda campaign.

His comments framed the gas pipeline as part of Russia’s bigger strategy to weaken the EU and to restore its former sphere of influence.

Commission assessment

Several EU states including the Baltic countries, Poland, and Slovakia have urged the EU commission to issue a legal assessment of whether Nord Stream II meets EU single market laws.

The anti-Nord Stream II bloc believes that if the commission flagged up problems, for instance, on Russia’s monopoly of the infrastructure, it might discourage private investors from taking part.

“If you’re putting your money somewhere, and you think it might not be kosher, you would think twice”, an EU source said.

Denmark and Sweden, at a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels on Monday, also called for the commission to intervene.

Such a legal assessment would be an unprecedented step, as the commission does not normally vet projects in advance.

It has stalled on its response for now, but two EU energy laws, which are currently under discussion, could give it new oversight powers on Nord Stream II and similar deals in future.

One bill would enable it to demand all information pertaining to major energy contracts between private firms, with the exception of price information.

Watchdog laws

The second one would task it with giving a priori assessments of whether major intergovernmental agreements, which govern projects such as Nord Stream II, meet EU law.

The latter bill could come “on stream” before 2019, and could still catch Nord Stream II in its net, if member states and MEPs can agree on the final wording swiftly.

The law on transparency of private contracts could be in force by 2020, in time to catch Nord Stream II gas suppliers.

US policy

Shub’s comments on Russia’s “malign” actions come amid doubt on future US foreign policy following the election of Donald Trump, who praised Russia during his campaign.

The EU and US imposed economic sanctions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

Shub said on Tuesday that he “can’t predict the future” on US sanctions policy, but he said both Congress and civil servants in Washington were “committed” to the modernisation of Ukraine.

A successful Ukraine would be the “best antidote to the cynical model coming out of Russia”, he said.

EU countries are preparing to extend the life of their economic sanctions on Russia by another six months due to its non-compliance with the so-called Minsk ceasefire accord.

One option is to clinch a provisional agreement among ambassadors in the run-up to the EU summit on 15 December, but to adopt it a couple of days later, as a courtesy to EU leaders, who are meant to keep control of the file.

Luhansk water crisis

Speaking also at the Ceps conference in Brussels on Tuesday, Thomas Mayr-Harting, a senior diplomat at the EU foreign service, said that even if there was to be no “substantial” change in EU-Russia relations in the near future, they should still work together on issues “where there’s a shared interest”.

He listed the Iran nuclear non-proliferation deal, the Syria war, and Russian fees for EU airlines to fly over Siberia to Asia, as examples.

He also said they should work together on getting water to people in the Luhansk region in war-torn Ukraine, who risked a humanitarian “calamity”.

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