Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

US deaf to Germany on Russia pipeline

  • German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier and chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo: bunde.gov)

Any firm issuing safety certificates for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will find itself in US sanctions crosshairs, the state department has warned.

"We will monitor activity to complete or certify the pipeline and, if such activity takes place, make a determination on the applicability of sanctions," a state department spokesperson told EUobserver on Thursday (11 February).

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  • Swiss and Norwegian firms abandoned Russia under US pressure (Photo: nordstream2.com)

"We're aware of the reports of the Fortuna beginning work in Danish waters. We have already identified the vessel Fortuna as blocked property," the spokesperson said.

Citing chapter and verse of 'CAATSA' and 'PEESA', two US sanctions acts on the case, "as amended" in recent months, these were "powerful tools to help advance US government policy," the spokesperson added.

Fortuna is a Russian ship which began laying pipes on a 120-km segment of Nord Stream 2 in Danish waters in the Baltic Sea last Saturday.

It stepped in after US pressure saw Swiss pipe-laying firm Allseas walk away last year.

Nord Stream 2 also needs technical and safety certificates from a company that is recognised by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency.

A Norwegian firm, DNV GL, was doing it, but also walked away.

And some legal experts, such as Alan Riley from the Atlantic Council, a US think-tank, believe Russia will find it harder to replace DNV GL the way it replaced Allseas with its Fortuna ship.

It will be "very difficult" to find a credible certification company that is both happy to be hit by US sanctions and that would "pass muster with the Danes", Riley said.

The hawkish US line comes despite German overtures to the new administration of president Joe Biden to drop objections.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has raised the subject on the phone with Biden, an EU source said.

German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has also said Nord Stream 2 should go ahead despite what the EU described as Russia's return to the "merciless" politics of Soviet times, in recent remarks by EU top diplomat Josep Borrell.

Steinmeier said, on Tuesday, that Germany owed Russia Nord Stream 2 as reparation for Nazi crimes in World War 2.

The state department declined to comment on that directly.

But Dan Fried, a retired senior US diplomat, earlier said it was "bad history trying to cover bad policy", in a sign of what the White House might have thought.

"Ukrainians, Poles, Balts may have something to say about this inflammatory argument. Why is Germany raising the stakes by digging in?", Fried said on Steinmeier.

Bad history

It was "bad history" because the worst Nazi atrocities took place in what is today Ukraine, which would be the main victim of Nord Stream 2.

And the state department explained what Fried meant by "bad policy".

"As president Biden made clear, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a bad deal," the state department told EUobserver on Thursday.

"Nord Stream 2 divides Europe, exposes Ukraine and central Europe to Russian manipulation, and goes against Europe's stated energy security goals," the US spokesperson said.

"Nord Stream 2 and the second line of TurkStream are designed to increase Russia's leverage over allies and partners and undermine transatlantic security," the spokesperson also said, referring to a second Russian gas pipeline to the EU via Turkey.

Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, which started up in January, both bypass Ukraine's EU-gas transit system.

They raise the risk Russia could expand its war in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian military fears.

And Nord Stream 2 would enable Russia to cut off gas to Poland and the Baltic states for geopolitical reasons.

Juggernaut

For its part, the European Commission also warned Nord Stream 2 would make the EU more dependent on Russian gas on Thursday.

But in contrast to the US sanctions, it had no power to halt the €10bn Russo-German juggernaut.

"Nord Stream 2 is a project of several private firms and we cannot prevent that if the German government agrees with going ahead," an EU spokeswoman said.

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