Trump’s signing the 2020 NDAA into law on Friday, and with it, sanctions targeting European and Russian companies laying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, had the immediate impact of forcing a work stoppage over the weekend as Allseas, the Swiss company that is Nord Stream’s main contractor, confirmed its workers, as well as partner contractors, have laid down their tools.
The new US punitive measures specifically target companies and their executives assembling the pipeline, including the very ships laying the pipeline on the controversial 760-mile project that would allow Russia to export natural gas directly to Germany and is expected to come online within the next year. Despite Allseas set to pull out its fleet of pipe-laying ships, Russia and Germany are vowing to move forward unimpeded, per the WSJ:
Its ships Solitaire and Pioneering Spirit, the largest construction vessel in the world, will remain in the area but are no longer laying the pipes, a spokesman for Allseas said. He added that as of Thursday, when work ceased, the project was about one month from being completed.
Jens D. Mueller, a spokesman for Nord Stream 2’s parent company, said that the pipeline would be finished despite Allseas pulling out its fleet.
And Russia is now hitting back, first by promising Washington will not impede the project, and further with reports that Moscow is drawing up retaliatory sanctions against the US, while not citing specifics.
Majority stakeholder Gazprom has indicated it’s already taken measures to complete the project while circumventing the US measures. The WSJ continues:
In preparation for the sanctions, Gazprom has retrofitted its own ships as well as ships belonging to Russian contractors that don’t do business outside Russia and would therefore be immune to American sanctions, according to one official of the company who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One contractor already involved in the project is the Russian subsea-pipeline construction firm MRTS JSC, a company that operates ships which could be used to complete the pipeline, according to Gazprom.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement described what it claims is in part an attempt by Washington to force its pricey liquefied gas on Europe: “As a result, Europeans will lose on all fronts.”
The statement added: “Washington decided that it shouldn’t spare anyone, even its closest allies in NATO, for the sake of its geopolitical ambitions and commercial profit.”
Germany, meanwhile, is also standing strongly against what its leaders have called Trump’s “meddling” in Europe’s energy independence. Over the weekend German finance minister Olaf Scholz slammed the US legislation as marking “serious interference in Germany and Europe’s internal affairs and our own sovereignty”.
“We object to them in the strongest terms,” he told a German television broadcaster, and added that the measures were “incomprehensible and improper for friends that are also linked by our common membership of NATO.”
This in the face of the US ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, provocatively touting the sanctions as “extremely pro-European” in comments made in the wake of Trump’s signing them into law on Friday. He cited anecdotal evidence to say he had “hearing from European diplomats all day today thanking me for taking such action.”
“The US policy is for European diversification and making sure that there are multiple sources [of energy],” he added. And invoking the US position that it is Moscow that seeks to stymie European energy independence, he warned against a scenario in which “one country or source has the ability to create undue leverage over Europe” — in reference to the nearly $10BN Nord Stream 2 project.
By all accounts, however, even reportedly by some within Trump’s own administration, it is indeed “too little too late” — as a Bloomberg report recently made clear, citing anonymous administration officials.