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The Looming Crisis Between Germany and the US Over Russian Gas (Russian TV News)

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Unlike the major US TV News companies, Russian TV has a full-time, highly competent correspondent in Berlin. He has been there for years, and his reports are excellent. Well recommended.


The US Congress took another step toward imposing sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives and Senate Armed Services Committee approved the U.S. defense budget for 2020. Among other things, as promised, the bill provides for sanctions against the Russian gas pipeline to Germany. Donald Trump has to sign the military budget. He's now under strong pressure by the Democrats, possible impeachment, and the upcoming election. He's likely to sign it because it's in the interests of American companies producing liquified gas. Germany called the American legislators' actions a direct attack on the EU.

Our staff correspondent in Berlin Mikhail Antonov studied opinions on the acute issue.

The U.S. defense budget for 2020 set a new record — $738 billion. It exceeds the current budget by over 3%. A new expenditure item was added. It provides for sanctions against the builders of the two offshore gas pipelines — Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream. This is how the U.S. House of Representatives took care of the energy security of Europe.

Michael Waltz, U.S. representative (Republican): “I urge you to vote for the bill because we are a country that is in a state of war. We fight against extremists all over the world, we're in a cold war against our rivals — Russia, China, and other states not recognizing international law.”

Jim Cooper, U.S. representative (Democrat): “The cohesion of our allies under U.S. leadership is extremely important for us to hold Russia liable, to prevent a new arms race.”

The logic is as follows: Russia sells gas to Europe, and this enables it to modernize its armed forces. There's nothing new but this is only a part of the doctrine, which is intended for the public. Everyone knows what the Americans want. But they don't care. American liquified gas, which is expected to substitute Russian pipeline gas, is compared to weapons of mass destruction since it's aimed at striking every European resident with higher heating and energy prices, not to mention prices on other goods. The U.S. will make money on it so that its defense budget will be bigger next year. It's a small wonder that this security concept enraged Germany.

Heiko Maas, Foreign Minister of Germany: “It's up to Europe, not the U.S., to define European energy policy. We strongly oppose any exterior interference and any sanctions of extraterritorial nature.”

It's Germany as the main gas hub in Europe that the sanctions are intended against. The Germans, whom the U.S. Secretary of Defense called "free riders" in NATO not long ago, are supposed to remain weak and easily led into obediently buying American fuel and weapons. That's the ultimate goal. And thwarting Nord Stream 2 is the easiest way to put Berlin in its place. Who in Europe will listen to the German chancellor after such a humiliation? This is a hostile act, unprecedented interference, extraterritorial sanctions. Representatives of German business seem to think that politicians in Berlin finally found the right language for communicating with Washington.

Matthias Shepp, Chairman of the Russian-German Chamber of Commerce: “Unfortunately, we have to admit that peaceful diplomacy and a reasoned position didn't lead to the desired result. It appears that we have to make ourselves understood better so that Washington could get the message.”

Since the Germans don't want to curtail Nord Stream 2, the U.S. is hitting the weakest point — the subcontractors engaged in the construction of the Baltic section of the gas pipeline, since the sea section of TurkStream is already built. The Italian company Saipem and the Swiss Allseas, which own the Pioneering Spirit and the Soliter, the ships involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2, will take the main blow. Their shareholders and managers will be banned from entering the U.S., and their assets will be frozen. The U.S. Senate still has to approve the bill on the sanctions and then Trump still has to sign it. But according to the NDR TV company, the owners of pipelaying cranes already warned that as soon as the U.S. president signs it, Saipem and Allseas will withdraw from the project.

They have to lay about 100 kilometers (60 miles) of pipes to complete Nord Stream 2. It'll take about 20 days or a month at most. But the U.S. Senate can consider the draft defense budget next week, and Trump will immediately sign it. Despite the cold war between Trump and the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, which wants to impeach him, observers have no doubt that the Senate and the president will easily approve the bill. Of course, it's a problem but not a catastrophe.

Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia: “Congress seems to be obsessed with a desire to do everything possible to ruin our relations. They continue what the Obama administration began. But as I've already said, we're used to such attacks, we know how to respond to them. I assure you that neither Nord Stream 2 nor TurkStream will be driven to a halt.”

The completion of the construction project will probably take a bit more time. But Russia has the Akademik Cherskiy. Gazprom bought the ship in 2016. It can finish the job if the European subcontractors withdraw. What appears to be inevitable is a political crisis in the relations between Germany and the U.S.

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