Tuesday

25th Sep 2018

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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."

Germany threatens US rift over Russia pipeline

Germany and Austria have urged the US not to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline, in stark terms that spoke of ending joint action on Ukraine.

EU wants continental free-trade deal with Africa

Earlier this week, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in his state of the union announced a new relationship with Africa. On Friday, his subordinates outlined the vision, promising jobs and growth by leveraging public funds for investments.

News in Brief

  1. ECB's Draghi set to clarify role in secretive G30 group
  2. Half of EU states at risk of missing recycling target
  3. Commission refers Poland to EU top court over rule of law
  4. Open Society Foundation takes Hungary to court
  5. EU court asked to rule on halting Brexit
  6. EU threatens Switzerland on stock trading
  7. Italy's new basic wage restricted to Italians
  8. UK tycoon offers to create pro-Brexit party

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Missing signature gaffe for Azerbaijan gas pipeline
  2. Every major city in Europe is getting warmer
  3. No chance of meeting EU renewable goals if infrastructure neglected
  4. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  5. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  6. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  7. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  8. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us