A US-Europe confrontation has emerged after Republican senators’ letter threatens legal and economic sanctions on completion of German pipeline importing Russian gas to Europe.
On the 5th August, Republican senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson sent a letter to Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH, which operates Mukran Port, alerting them to their exposure to sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. US Senator for Texas Ted Cruz’s press office released the following statement: Mukran Port provides services to vessels that Russia has indicated will be used for the project, and reportedly stores pipes to be installed as part of the pipeline. There is a bipartisan, bicameral, and intra-agency consensus in the United States government that has produced a range of sanctions authorities and mandates that will be leveled against any company that participates in the project.
In the letter, the Senators wrote:
“This letter serves as formal legal notice that these goods, services, support, and provisioning risk exposing Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH and Mukran Port, as well as your board members, corporate officers, shareholders, and employees, to crushing legal and economic sanctions, which our government will be mandated to impose. These sanctions include potentially fatal measures that will cut off Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH from the United States commercially and financially. The only responsible course of action is for Fährhafen Sassnitz GmbH to exercise contractual options that it has available to cease these activities.”
“Your provisioning of the Fortuna or Akademik Cherskiy will certainly have become sanctionable the instant that either vessel dips a pipe into the water to construct the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, or engages in any pipe-laying activity relevant to the project, but your exposure extends to any activities related to goods, services, or support of the pipeline. The law requires that ‘the President shall’ issue the designations.”
The US has long-since taken issue with the almost-completed Nord Stream 2 Baltic pipeline project. Officials have attempted to perpetuate the notion that such relations will increase European dependence on Russia. Berlin has resolutely resisted these claims, relaying firmly that it will self-determine all national policy, in conjunction with the EU. The issue, however, has been turned into a full-on US-Europe conflict by the senators’ letter.
The letter makes claims that the project poses a “grave threat” to US security, justifying “crushing legal and economic sanctions” for the continuation of the pipeline. This may cause severe and irreparable detriment to the region’s economy as a huge amount of residents make their living from the port. The harsh attack would see all Sassnitz companies, shareholders and employees face asset freezes and travel bans ordered by the US Government similar to those placed on North Korea and Iran. Naturally, there has been fierce outrage. Sassnitz is infuriated, and accusations against America have since been flying.
While the US takes the stance that these actions were taken in an honourable and earnest effort to protect Europe, it isn’t difficult to believe with some conviction that it has more to do with the expensive gas Cruz would rather sell to Europe from his home state of Texas. Protecting Europe becomes a less likely motive when you consider that Trump recently withdrew a little more than half of the US troops stationed in Germany – a crucial part of Nato defences against Russia. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, described his “deep concern at the growing use of sanctions, or threat of sanctions, by the US against European companies and interests”. The US is accused of treating Germany like an enemy, or a colony, as opposed to an ally. Such behaviour reveals a fundamental disrespect for European rights and sovereignty.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s relationship with President Trump seems to have gone from icy to hostile. The German chancellor has received disrespect and insult from Trump for several years. Trump made repeated rude remarks about Merkel during his 2016 presidential campaign, accusing her of “ruining Germany” and being a “catastrophic leader” and even began an anti-Clinton hashtag campaign “#AmericasMerkel”. More recently, in June, he was reported by CNN to have told Merkel that she was “stupid” after accusing her of being in the pocket of the Russians. Merkel reportedly took the attacks gracefully. When questioned at her recent summer news conference about Ric Grenell’s statement that “As US Ambassador to Germany… I’ve watched President Trump charm the Chancellor of Germany”, the chancellor’s bemused response “He did what?” sparked laughter. It is clear to say that the German leader had not, in fact, been at all charmed by the President.
Merkel has not faced Trump’s imprudence alone. In June, CNN reported that Trump called former British Prime Minister Theresa May “a fool” and spineless in her approach to Brexit, NATO and immigration policy. The CNN report also describes how Trump “bullied and disparaged” other world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The contention between Germany and the US and America’s increasing use of intimidation tactics may begin to reignite broader resentments. Europe has become disgruntled with Trump’s tariff wars, climate crisis denial, and efforts to divide the EU by seeking favour with conservative eastern states. Once again, last week’s events saw the US make disrespectful and accusatory remarks against their closest allies. US secondary sanctions negatively affected European companies in trade with Tehran, so when the US came to the UN looking to reimpose sanctions on Iran, it was vehemently rejected. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s almost laughable
eaction heard him classify Europe as “siding with the ayatollahs”. US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft chose to describe US allies as “standing in the company of terrorists”.
If Trump is re-elected in November, can Europe expect to face more sanctions? Will US foreign policy continue to morph into bullying brutishness? Even if Trump does not triumph in the election, the possibility of such unrestricted treatment in future should be enough to urge Europe to strengthen its protections against the economic and financial blackmail seen in Sassnitz.