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First Sign of Discord Between Merkel and Macron as France Attacks German Pipeline

BERLIN – The United States has spent years trying to derail a controversial Russian gas pipeline in Europe. France may have found a way to kill her – and perhaps to strangle the reconciliation of Paris with Berlin at the same time, Foreign Policy magazine reported Friday.
This Friday in Brussels, the Council of the European Union will vote on a seemingly obscure directive to apply EU market rules to energy projects starting in a third country, such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia.
In a surprising turn around, reported for the first time in the German press, France has now decided to support the directive. It risks angering Germany – who really wanted to build the pipeline with Russia – and potentially reversing the $11 billion energy plan, a priority of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The change in rules, which has been discussed in different ways for more than a year, could have far greater consequences than this project. By ensuring that third countries comply with EU rules in the energy sector, Brussels seems to be tackling one of Moscow’s favorite weapons: its use of energy exports to put pressure on its smaller neighbors, especially in central and eastern Europe.
“If this were to happen, Russia could not play geopolitical games with pipeline projects,” said Alan Riley of the Atlantic Council.
The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has generated a great deal of controversy since the announcement made by Russian Gazprom and a handful of Western companies in 2015.
Moscow likes the idea of having a second direct route to its biggest European customer, in particular a road that bypasses Ukraine, which it considers a pesky neighbor and an unreliable partner in the transport of gas. Germany likes the project because it would double the amount of cheap Russian gas going directly to Europe’s largest economy – a gas that needs more natural gas to divert from coal and nuclear power.
But many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, not to mention the United States, have hated it since the first day, fearing that this will only increase Europe’s dependence on Russia in terms of energy supply as tension rises between Moscow and the West.
Ukraine, in particular, regards Nord Stream as an existential threat, a threat that literally cut it off the path of Russian exports, leaving it potentially without supplies and depriving it of billions of dollars in transit fees. Other Eastern European countries also fear that Nord Stream will give Russia more capacity to change Europe’s gas supplies, as it has done several times in recent decades.
“Poland regards Nord Stream 2 as a major threat to peace and security on the European continent from the point of view of the deepening dependence of European countries on Russian energy and the prospects of ‘an escalation of Russian aggression against Ukraine,” said Polish Foreign Minister. Jacek Czaputowicz at the end of last month.
And since the Obama administration, Washington has opposed the project. This opposition has only grown after President Donald Trump came to power, pushed by a US Congress increasingly inclined to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and its interference in the 2016 US elections.
Congress passed a tough new sanctions law in 2017 that for the first time puts Russia’s energy projects at risk of economic retaliation in the United States, a major threat for a country that relies on oil and gas exports natural resource for most of its public revenue. Since then, US officials have repeatedly warned Western energy companies working with Gazprom that they risk being punished.
In January, the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, reportedly told German companies that they risked sanctions if they carried out the project.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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