Sunday

17th Dec 2017

EU-US scrap on Russia sanctions gets worse

  • Juncker (r) waves goodbye to Trump after meeting him in Brussels in May. (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU has threatened to retaliate against US sanctions on European firms that invest in Russian energy projects.

But a senior US diplomat has said there is a window of opportunity to “change the status quo” on Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Ukraine conflict "very active", Volker said after visiting front line. (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission chief, said on Wednesday (26 July) that “if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days.”

“America first cannot mean that Europe's interests come last,” he said.

A leaked internal memo this week indicated the Commission might seek to circumscribe US jurisdiction on the issue or to impose counter-sanctions on US firms.

Juncker said the EU was “fully committed” to previous Russia sanctions, but he said the new US measures could have “unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests”, such as repairs to Russia’s old gas pipeline network.

His words were echoed by Berlin, whose plan to build a newI gas pipeline with Russia, Nord Stream II, could be in jeopardy if the US measures go through.

Martin Schaefer, a German foreign ministry spokesman, indicated that the US wanted to block the pipeline so that American firms could sell more gas in Europe.

It would be "unacceptable for the United States to use … sanctions as an instrument to serve the interests of US industry," he said.

Volker Treier, the head of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, a lobby group, said: “The United States is looking to its own economic interests.”

Transatlantic split

The chorus rang out after the House of Representatives in Washington passed the Russia sanctions bill by 419 votes to three on Tuesday.

It is expected to fly through the Senate and the White House and could become law in August or September.

Nord Stream II aside, it also threatens fines against firms that help Russia to extract offshore gas in the Arctic or to sell arms, and it restricts debt sales to Russian banks.

The transatlantic split comes amid increased violence in east Ukraine.

Kurt Volker, a US special envoy on Ukraine, said in Brussels, also on Wednesday, that “it’s a very active conflict right now. There are ceasefire violations by the thousands each day and there’s a tremendous humanitarian toll”.

“The level of violence, casualties this year is 65 percent over that of last year,” he said.

Volker came to the EU capital to outline US policy on Russia after visiting the front line in Ukraine.

He did not directly defend the new US sanctions, but he indicated they were part of a “concerted [US] effort to be more engaged on the issue”.

“This is becoming a costly problem for Russia,” he said, referring to its covert military campaign in east Ukraine.

“So I hope we’re able to find a better solution than the status quo. We’ve got to change the status quo,” he said.

He said there was a new window of opportunity for diplomacy because US president Donald Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron both wanted to end the conflict.

He said elections in Germany in autumn and in Russia next year could also renew interest in a solution.

“There are some reasons for hope. It’s not a lost cause,” Volker said.

US policy

Trump stands accused of colluding with Russian president Vladmir Putin to win last year’s US election, but Volker said that when Trump and Putin met at a G20 summit in Germany earlier this month the US president voiced a tough line on Ukraine.

Volker said US policy was that Russia must restore Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that Ukraine must guarantee the safety of all Ukrainian citizens, including Russian speakers.

EU firms Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall are to bankroll Nord Stream II, which would concentrate 70 percent of Russian gas exports on the German route.

It would make former Soviet bloc states easier to blackmail with gas cut-offs, its critics say, and it would harm Ukraine by making its gas transit pipes obsolete.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US sanctions bill “does not fit the framework of common sense”.

He told the Interfax news agency that Russia-US relations were entering "uncharted territory in a political and diplomatic sense."

Feature

Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees

Lebanon hosts over one million Syrian refugees, and has received some €1bn in EU funds. Caught in a geo-political tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Lebanon's domestic politics have cast a longer shadow over its Syrian 'guests'.

EU complicit in Libyan torture, says Amnesty

The EU and its members states have signed up to 'Faustian pact' with Libyan authorities in the their effort to prevent migrant and refugee boat departures towards Italy, says Amnesty International.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives