EU is furious over latest round of Russia sanctions

July 26, 2017, 1:07pm

The European Union made it abundantly clear Wednesday that it isn’t pleased with the U.S. Congress’ latest round of proposed sanctions on Russia, promising a retaliation “within days” if the bloc’s concerns “are not taken into account sufficiently.”

The House of Representatives voted for a wide-ranging bill Tuesday that will slap further sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, while also limiting President Trump’s ability to waive these sanctions without congressional approval. It is expected to pass in the Senate in the coming days and then land on Trump’s desk.

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But the bill — barely a day old — has already picked up several detractors. Trump may veto the bill, the Kremlin thinks it’s “sad news,” and the EU is blasting it as an “America first” policy that will negatively impact oil and gas companies in Europe and threaten the region’s overall energy security.

German officials criticized the bill Wednesday, saying that the latest round of sanctions are designed to favor U.S. firms and that politicians in Washington were conducting industrial policy under the guise of sanctions. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned: “If our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days.”

“America first cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last,” Juncker said.

Europe is primarily concerned with the impact the sanctions will have on the $10 billion “Nord Stream 2” gas pipeline being constructed across the Baltic Sea, between Russia and Germany. U.S. lawmakers claim the pipeline will have “detrimental impacts on the EU’s energy security,” as nearly 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe would flow directly to Germany through a single set of pipelines.

Traditionally, Russian gas reaches Europe through a number of pipelines, most of which pass through Ukraine, but given the conflict between the two countries, the Russian government wants to avoid sending gas that way. Russia remains the largest exporter of oil and gas to Western Europe despite a series of EU-U.S.-led sanctions launched in 2014 in response to Moscow’s role in the annexation of Crimea.

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But this move would also damage Ukraine’s economy, said Rem Korteweg, of Dutch think tank the Clingendael Institute. “[The] loss of transit fees would weaken Ukraine’s economy, decrease the beleaguered country’s energy security, and so undermine the EU’s policy toward Kiev,” Korteweg said.

The EU appears determined to move forward with the pipeline regardless, and is hopeful the U.S. will heed its warnings. Mina Andreeva, deputy chief spokeswoman for Juncker, told VICE News that the EU has seen “a number of positive steps following our diplomatic outreach” to the U.S. in recent days, but concerns remain. She added that the EU would need to see the final legislation before it could specify what action — if any — it would take in response.

Wednesday’s run-in is just the latest spat between the U.S. government and Europe. Earlier this month Junker warned U.S. lawmakers that the EU stood ready to retaliate “within days” if Trump followed through on threats to impose tariffs on steel imports. Trump still has to make up his mind on the tariffs, with the administration saying this week it is “taking its time.”

Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin is also not very happy with the latest threat of sanctions. “The authors and sponsors of this bill are making a very serious step toward destruction of prospects for normalizing relations with Russia and do not conceal that that’s their target,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said.

Questions remain over whether Trump will veto the latest sanctions bill. He is still uncertain about whether Russia did interfere in the 2016 election, and says he may not enforce sanctions because he “wants to get the best deal for the American people possible.”