E.U. Uneasy About Impact of New U.S. Sanctions on Russia

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LONDON — The European Union is threatening unspecified retaliation if the United States imposes new sanctions on Russia that affect its energy supplies. But as usual, the 28-nation bloc is divided, with central European countries more willing to see limits on the bloc’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

The new round of sanctions has been driven by the United States Congress, which is intent on punishing Russia for its suspected meddling in last year’s presidential election. Bipartisan support in Congress for the new sanctions is so strong that the White House has suggested that President Trump will sign the bill that emerges and not veto it.

But the new sanctions have important implications for Europe and have immediately threatened to become yet another wedge dividing the United States from its traditional European allies.

As written, the sanctions target any company that contributes to the development, maintenance or modernization of Russia’s energy export pipelines.

That would almost surely affect a controversial pipeline project between Russia and Germany known as Nord Stream 2, which is owned by Gazprom but includes financial stakes from European companies. The project aims to carry Russian natural gas under the Baltic Sea, bypassing countries like Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic States.

The new pipeline, in rough parallel to the existing Nord Stream 1, is being built to carry another 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year, underscoring Europe’s continuing need for Russian energy.

“We are following the draft bill on Russia sanctions with some concern, notably because of its possible impact on the E.U.’s energy independence,” a European Commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, said on Monday.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s bureaucratic arm, has called for an urgent review of how the European Union should respond.

Brussels should be prepared to act “within days” if the sanctions are adopted “without E.U. concerns being taken into account,” according to a position paper drafted by the European Commission dated July 19.

The paper argued that the sanctions could affect the maintenance or upgrading of existing pipelines from Russia into Ukraine and elsewhere around the Caspian Sea.

It also raised concerns that unity could be broken between the United States and the European Union on how to deal with Russia for its annexation of Crimea and sponsorship of warfare in eastern Ukraine.

The European Union — which does much more business with neighboring Russia than the United States does — imposed a series of sanctions on Russia, including on specific energy companies, beginning in 2014 over its actions in Ukraine.

The new sanctions would add punishments against Russian energy, financial, rail, shipping and metals and mining sectors.

The European Commission is seeking assurances from Washington that, if passed, the new measures will not be applied in a way that affect European Union interests or energy companies.

It has also suggested that European law could be used to prevent the application of “extraterritorial” measures by the United States, and it hinted at trade retaliation.

The tensions over the potential new sanctions on Russia come on top of other recent disputes on trade issues with the Trump administration.

Previously, Mr. Juncker threatened rapid retaliation in response to Mr. Trump’s contemplated new punitive tariffs on steel imports, which would affect more than a dozen countries, including some in Europe.

“We are prepared to take up arms if need be,” he said earlier this month at the G-20 summit meeting in Hamburg.

Retaliatory targets for the bloc could include American whiskey imports. “I don’t want to tell you in detail what we’re doing,” Mr. Juncker said then. “But what I would like to tell you is that within a few days — we won’t need two months for that — we could react with countermeasures.”

Mr. Trump has opposed further sanctions on Russia. The impetus instead has come from a Congress that wants to tie the president’s hands on Russia and prevent him from lifting earlier sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama over Ukraine.

That earlier round of sanctions was carefully calibrated between the United States and its European allies to keep everyone on board and preserve a united response to Russia’s land grab in Ukraine. Energy, which divides even European partners, was a crucial part of that calculus.

Nord Stream 2 is important for Germany. But it has been fiercely criticized by central and eastern Europeans. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council and a former Polish prime minister, is a vocal critic of the pipeline, urging strict regulation of a project he has said would strengthen Moscow.

In a June letter to the European Commission, Mr. Tusk expressed his “negative view” of the project.

It will allow Russia “to close down the transit route through Ukraine, leaving our partners at Russia’s mercy, while its aggression has not ended,” he wrote.

“It also contradicts the objective we have set for the energy union,” making Europe “more dependent on Russian supplies,” and “will strengthen Gazprom’s position as the E.U.’s dominant gas supplier. In short, it will not serve the best European interest.”