Economics dictate national interests. Foreign policy is the tool used to advance it. Moscow has to fight back on all fronts, but the truth is that Washington does not care much about chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta, the Salisbury poisoning, election meddling, or so many other fairy tales used to justify its anti-Russia policy. These are just pretexts to promote US economic interests abroad.
Gas exports to Europe present exciting opportunities but supplies from Russia are cheaper and more reliable. So the US needs to get rid of the obstacle in its way — the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline, which will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany. Washington will do anything to achieve this cherished goal.
On March 15, a bipartisan group of 39 senators led by John Barrasso (R-WY) sent a letter to the Treasury Department. They oppose NS2 and are calling on the administration to bury it. Why? They don’t want Russia to be in a position to influence Europe, which would be “detrimental,” as they put it. Their preferred tool to implement this obstructionist policy is the use of sanctions. Thirty-nine out of 100 is a number no president can ignore. Powerful pressure is being put on the administration. Even before the senators wrote their letter, Kurt Volker, the US envoy to Ukraine, had claimed that NS2 was a purely political, not commercial, project. No doubt other steps to ratchet up the pressure will follow.
Their loyal friends in Europe chimed in almost simultaneously with the US lawmakers. Polish Foreign Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has proven himself to be a master at telling horror stories about the scariest things that might happen once the pipeline is up and running. On March 2, the speakers of parliament in Ukraine and Moldova signed a letter addressed to the chairs of the parliaments of the EU countries, warning about the repercussions. This is “a destabilizing factor” that will weaken Europe, they exclaim. Of course it is. Paying more for gas brought in on ships that can change course to head for a new destination if the price of gas elsewhere becomes more alluring will naturally make Europe stronger. Good reasoning!
On March 11, the leaders of the parliaments of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania signed another open letter to the parliaments of the EU states to warn them against the construction of NS2. It’s not a commercial project, they say, it’ll make you dependent on Russia. “Gazprom … is not a gas company but a platform for Russian coercion“, affirms Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former head of NATO who now works as a consultant for Ukraine. Estonia has also joined the choir as one of the strongest critics of Nord Stream. The European Commission opposes the project too, but lacks the legal grounds to prevent private investment from flowing in.
Europe needs this commodity and Russia is selling it. What makes this “not a commercial deal”? Dependence? From this perspective, any customer who makes a choice then becomes “dependent” on the vendor. Who is keeping them from getting gas from other sources? The sea lanes are all open if they need to use them. Poland and Lithuania have already built terminals for liquefied natural gas. But it’s more expensive and the prices in the Asia Pacific region make that market more attractive. To woo US shale-gas exporters, Europeans will have to pay more. Don’t they have the right to choose what suits them best?
As practice shows, writing letters is not enough. There are “stubborn” leaders at the helms of some European states who dare to put their national interests first. Just think about it! If “America First” is fine as a slogan, then what’s wrong with an “Austria First” policy? One daring young man who is protecting the interests of his country is Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. He openly supports the Nord Stream 2 project. And he is not alone. Germany continues to back it despite the pressure. Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that the NS2 project “poses no danger to diversification.” The German-based think tank ewi Energy Research & Scenarios has estimated that the project “has a price decreasing and welfare enhancing effect in the EU-28 overall.”
But Washington could not care less about its allies, which is clear from its opposition to this project. Its interests are self-centered. The US is not only promoting its liquefied gas supplies in Europe but is also trying to make it easier to pay for its plan to keep Ukraine in its orbit to use as a springboard right on the Russian border. Nord Stream 2 will make the gas-transit route via Ukraine redundant, depriving that country of much of the €1.8 billion (nearly 2% of its GDP) it earns annually in transit fees. The blow to the Ukrainian economy would undercut the US and EU’s financial support for Kiev. In addition, the revenue from NS2 would mean profits for Russia, thus softening the impact of the West’s sanctions. The European countries that vehemently oppose NS2 also want the US military based on their soil. And even if that presence is already there, they want more of it.
Europe is split over a lot of issues, but in the EU, NATO, and the Council of Europe there is a pro-American camp ready to dance to the US tune. And Poland and the Baltic States are happy campers. Whatever happens, they’ll snap to attention, click their heels, salute, and do as they’re told by Washington. As a result, their taxpayers will pay for US weapons although less costly and more efficient systems could be acquired elsewhere. And it is the ordinary people who’ll have to shell out for US shale gas shipped by sea instead of the much cheaper supplies coming from Russia. It’s just as simple as that: European taxpayers will have to pay for this “America First” policy unless the governments of such European states as Germany and Austria stand tall and refuse to bow to pressure.
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Image of John Barrasso courtesy of US Senate
Featured image courtesy of Sputnik, Igor Zarembo