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Trump’s Tariffs on EU Are Great News for Russia

His war on Nord Stream 2 is even better

The trade relations between the U.S. and the European Union took a turn for the worse last week, after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU.

While these trade tariffs are deteriorating the relations between the United States and its European allies, trade in one particular energy commodity—natural gas—between the EU and Russia is strong, and Vladimir Putin and Russia’s gas giant Gazprom aim to boost (even more) energy trade with the EU.

The U.S. alienation of EU allies on trade is a welcome boost for Russia-EU energy ties, some analysts say.

“Trump is forcing the Europeans closer to the Russians,” Stefan Meister, Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said in an interview with Bloomberg. “This is playing right into Putin’s hands.”

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Responding to the U.S. tariffs, the EU said that “this is protectionism, pure and simple.”

“The US now leaves us with no choice but to proceed with a WTO dispute settlement case and with the imposition of additional duties on a number of imports from the US,” President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said.

While the EU and the U.S. are in a trade dispute over steel and aluminum and potential EU tariffs on American bourbon, motorcycles, or cranberries, Russia’s Gazprom—which already supplies around one-third of Europe’s gas—is selling record amounts of natural gas to Europe. The Russian gas giant has also just settled a seven-year-long antitrust dispute with the EU without a fine, after Gazprom agreed to change market behavior and ensure competitive gas prices in Central and Eastern Europe.

In addition, the Gazprom-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to twin the existing Nord Stream pipeline is also making progress despite the U.S. threatening sanctions on the companies involved in the project.

For Russia, Nord Stream 2 not only boosts its gas supplies to the EU, but also bypasses the Ukrainian transit route. For the Baltic states and Poland, as well as the EU institutions, the project undermines the diversification of supplies as it would only tighten Russia’s gas grip over Europe. For the U.S., Nord Stream 2 is a security concern, and sanctions on companies involved in the project—apart from Gazprom those include European companies ENGIE, OMV, Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall—are not off the table.

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U.S. officials are considering other ways to block Nord Stream 2, but some key officials think that sanctions could be an increasingly likely option, Foreign Policy magazine reported last week, quoting three sources familiar with the matter.

Full sanctions threatening to prevent say, Shell, from doing business in the U.S. could be fatal to its participation in Nord Stream 2.

Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2 has received all necessary permits in Germany and Finland, with Denmark and Sweden yet to decide on permits, and Nord Stream 2 began in mid-May offshore preparatory pipelay works in Germany.

At the same time, Gazprom is exporting record volumes of natural gas to European countries. Between January and May, Gazprom’s exports increased by 5.8 percent compared to the previous record sales for the same period last year, the Russian company said last week.

Russia, via its exclusive gas export company Gazprom, boosted deliveries in the winter, one of the coldest winters in Europe in the past decade, and continues to ship higher volumes even after the winter, as gas importing countries replenish gas storage supplies that had been drained amid the cold snaps.

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These days, Russia is celebrating 50 years of “reliable supplies” of gas to Austria.

“In the past 50 years, we have received reliable gas supplies from Russia and have been able to provide our industrial and household customers with high-quality natural gas without interruption. This is a good base for expanding the partnership with Gazprom in the long term,” Rainer Seele, Chairman of the Executive Board of Austria’s OMV, said in a Gazprom press statement.

While the EU and the U.S. bicker over tariffs, Russia is boosting its gas trade with Europe.

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