By Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) In a dramatic development, a leaked memo has revealed that the European Commission is prepared to retaliate against any US sanctions imposed on Russia over alleged election meddling if they hit European energy companies.
The European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has apparently called for the EU to “stand ready to act within days” if the US measures are “adopted without EU concerns being taken into account”, according to a note seen by the Financial Times.
The sanctions are currently being considered in the US Congress, with a vote in the House of Representatives expected on Tuesday, with Brussels seeking “a public or written reassurance” from the Trump White House that any sanctions will not target EU interests.
President Trump has indicated that he is inclined to sign the measure into law but has reservations over the provisions that would restrict his right to revoke sanctions.
"We support where the legislation is now and will continue working with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved and it certainly isn't right now," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" program.
The official said the administration "supports the direction the bill is headed, but won't weigh in conclusively until there is a final piece of legislation and no more changes are being made."
Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's new communications director, said Trump had not yet decided whether he would sign the bill.
"My guess is ... that he's going to make that decision shortly," Scaramucci told CNN's "State of the Union."
Behind the bill is the powerful element in the US Congress which is seeking by all possible means to maintain a hostile stance against both Russia and Iran, and in particular to prevent President Trump from carrying out his campaign project to improve relations with Russia. Republicans and Democrats claim they are seeking to punish Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and for meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any interference in the U.S. democratic process last year.
Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy and Cyprus are among EU states which are usually skeptical of Russia sanctions. They take the line that punitive measures have failed to force a change of course by Moscow while hurting European business but have not so far dared to incur the wrath of the United States by blocking sanctions renewal. There is also concern that the new sanctions are aimed at damaging the nuclear agreement reached with Iran
The Russian point of view is that the new sanctions are a form of disguised protectionism designed to force the EU to buy more expensive US fossil fuels. It is certainly the case the United States has tried to block the purchase of cheap gas from Russia and the former Soviet Union, for the last 45 years. On the other hand they have themselves continued to trade with Russia and before that the Soviet Union when it suits, most recently buying a billion dollars of Russian RD-180 space rocket engines.
More specifically what both sides are talking about, without mentioning it, is the doubling of the capacity of the Nordstream gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. The new anti-Russia proposals include individual sanctions for investing in Russian pipeline projects, especially the giant Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
The European Commission is in some difficulty because on the one hand certain ex-Soviet countries notably Poland want to block Nordstream, strongly supported by the US whereas Europe’s paymaster Germany and notably German industrialists are strongly in favor. By imposing more sanctions on the EU energy sector, the US hopes to block the pipeline.
Those Europeans, who think in terms of wider foreign policy, are concerned with the weakening effect it will have on Ukraine where for the moment much of Russian gas transits. The transfer of more gas via the Baltic and ultimately Turkish stream will not only reduce transit fees payable to cash strapped Ukraine but also deny it a political lever that it has regularly used by interfering with Europe’s gas supplies. Never the less although the Ukraine government is a Western puppet supported by the EU, it is not a member of the EU nor likely to be in the foreseeable future.
Whilst the Americans work ceaselessly to keep Europe and Russia apart, they must weigh up the risk of finally exhausting European patience and driving EU members to abandon the sanctions project altogether. On the other hand, they must also consider that if they do keep Europe and Russia apart, they are driving the Russians further into the arms of the Chinese thus creating the very Eurasian power block that the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski warned about for so long.