The resort of Sassnitz on Germany’s largest island of Rügen and the Texas port city of Brownsville on the Mexican border have no similarities other than access to the sea. At the beginning of August, however, there were events in both places that are closely linked.
While the Brownsville port operators cheered a court ruling that cleared the way for the construction of new liquefied natural gas terminals, a dispatch from Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, as well as his colleagues Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin arrived in Sassnitz.
The fracking gas lobbyists put “the future financial survival” of the Baltic Sea port at disposition. The supply of Russian laying vessels and any further participation in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline carries the risk of “exposing the ferry port Of Sassnitz GmbH and the port of Mukran as well as its members of the Board of Management, managing directors, shareholders and employees to legal and economic sanctions. Another last-minute attempt by American hardliners to prevent the completion of the 95% completed 1,200-kilometer natural gas pipeline.
The home states of the three Republicans are among the beneficiaries of the fracking boom. The bipartisan narrative in the US is that Germany and Europe are becoming dependent on Moscow for gas supplies from Russia, which can turn the gas tap on at any time. In fact, most of the natural gas imports come from Russia, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. The amount of natural gas extracted in the North Sea is steadily declining. And the liquefied natural gas extracted from fracking in the US is expensive and environmentally questionable. So neither Germany nor the European Union can get past Russia as an important gas exporter.
The dispute between the US and Germany over Nord Stream 2 brings together national economic interests and geopolitical aspects. In “Make America Great Again” mode, the Trump administration is trying to save its fracking industry and impose the costs on Europe. Energy market expert Robert McNally bluntly told The New York Times, “We want them to buy from us, not from the Russians.” In a similar move, Washington is putting pressure on the Chinese company Huawei to build its 5G network worldwide in a dispute over the involvement of Chinese conglomerate Huawei. Moreover, according to further accusations from the US, cooperation between Germany and Russia in the energy sector could be a building block on the long road to a Eurasian economic area, which would lead to a new security architecture, which would be contrary to NATO doctrine.
From the beginning of the construction work, the US made it clear that it would do everything in its power to prevent the second pipeline from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Most recently, the Trump administration enacted further sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline in July, which violated international law. The coercive measures against 120 companies from 12 European countries participating in the pipeline came into force with immediate effect.
The new US sanctions are based on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed in July 2017 in the US Congress and signed by Trump. The law has led to a tightening of economic “strangulation” measures against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Since then, sanctions have been imposed on companies as well as individuals. The extension of one’s own right to relations between third parties (extraterritorial effect) is legally inadmissible. But as a recent analysis by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) states, the recent US sanctions law against Nord Stream 2 leaves no doubt that Washington no longer knows a “taboo” in the economic war (German Foreign Policy of 17.7.2020).
There were harsh reactions from German politics and industry. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas scolded: “European energy policy is made in Europe and not in Washington.” The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs declared the “extraterritorial” sanctions “unlawful in international law” (manager-magazin.de of 16.7.2020). Washington’s move marks an “incomprehensible low point in transatlantic relations,” criticized the chairman of the Eastern Committee, Oliver Hermes, “the EU and Germany are allowed to … not be presented as an American protectorate”. But as unanimous as the rejection of “extraterritorial sanctions” was, the representatives from politics and business were divided to weak when it came to consistent reactions. Instead of demanding the immediate repeal of the illegal anti-Nordstream law, the federal government was hesitant.
How brazen and presumptuous US representatives behave in dealing with sovereign states became apparent as early as the end of May 2020, when the now abdicated US Ambassador Richard Grenell repeated his extortionate threats against Germany and called on the German government to fundamentally reconsider its Russia policy: “Germany must stop feeding the beast while not paying enough for NATO.”
Parts of the Union and the FDP and the Greens stand alongside the United States. The alleged poison attack on the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is a welcome occasion for them to demand the halt of Nordstream 2 themselves. Now “everything has to be put to the test,” demands Norbert Röttgen (CDU), chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign affairs committee. Completing the Baltic Pipeline would be the “ultimate and maximum confirmation for Vladimir Putin to continue with this very policy.” Katrin Göring-Eckardt, leader of Alliance 90/The Greens in the Bundestag, said that “the apparent assassination attempt by the mafia-like structures of the Kremlin” must have “real consequences.” Nord Stream 2 is nothing more that can be promoted together with Russia.
Although it is also difficult for the German government and the German secret service to prove that “the Kremlin” ordered or knowingly tolerated the attack on Navalny, the principle of “in dubio pro reo” clearly does not apply in relations with Russia. The heinous attack on Navalny serves as a new driving force for the division of Russia and the West. The chairman of the Eastern Committee, Oliver Hermes, counters: “We think it is wrong to react to the poisoning of Navalny with further economic sanctions, which would then again hit completely uninvolved companies and the Russian people.” We must not allow the incident to become a lasting burden on bilateral relations and to affect the german-Russian economic contacts.
While Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD) “strictly rejects” a halt to Nordstream 2 construction, her party colleague Heiko Maas is threatening to halt the construction of the gas pipeline “should the Russian government not participate in the investigation of the Case of Navalny.” The Putin administration should indeed participate in the investigation. But This is not the first time Maas has acted with the US in a way that is to be feared that the last vested remains of Willy Brandt’s détente and eastern policy will be sacrificed.