07 Aug 2020, 14:42
Benjamin Wehrmann

Outrage in Germany as US senators threaten "crushing" sanctions on port over Nord Stream 2

Die Welt / WirtschaftsWoche / Tagesspiegel

Three Republican senators have threatened the US will impose "crushing legal and economic sanctions" on the port of Sassnitz on the German Baltic Sea over the construction of the controversial gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, Daniel Wetzel reports for Die Welt. Senators Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson sent a letter to the port's management, saying the sanctions would be "obligatory" and had to be applied with full force. Sassnitz port is a key logistics hub for the nearly complete pipeline project that connects Germany with Russia and which has been heavily criticised by the US government for allegedly increasing European dependence on Russian fossil fuels. The senators warned the port authorities that continuing to host Russian construction vessels and move or store materials for the pipeline would "destroy the financial survival of your business," Wetzel writes. The senators also threatened managers and shareholders of the port individually, saying they would no longer be allowed to travel to the US and that all assets "in our area of responsibility” would be frozen. The Republican lawmakers reiterated US government claims that Nord Stream 2 is a "severe threat to the national security of the USA" and argue that both parties in the US Congress are determined to prevent the project's completion so that "these threats never materialise."

Michael Harms, head of the German Eastern Business Association, told the magazine WirtschaftsWoche that the bilateral crisis had to be solved diplomatically, but added that, "in the end, countersanctions mustn't be a taboo. This is about German and European sovereignty." He said there should be a European "protective shield" for companies affected by the sanctions and urged the German government to advocate EU sanctions, if no other solution can be found.

The state minister in Germany's foreign ministry, Niels Annen, told the newspaper Tagesspiegel that the letter's "tone and content" were "completely inappropriate." Annen said the government had signalled "to our American partner" that it regards the threat of sanctions to be intolerable, arguing that Europe would make itself susceptible to "blackmail" if does not counter US actions. Manuela Schwesig, state premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where Sassnitz is located, said the senators' letter was “unacceptable" and assured that the state would continue with the project. "I expect the federal government to also vehemently reject these attempts at blackmailing," Schwesig added.

The pipeline project that runs parallel to the existing Nord Stream 1 connection has been controversial also within Europe, where especially Germany's eastern neighbours criticised it as a bid to circumvent their territory in energy trading. It has also been repeatedly challenged by environmental groups, who also argue that alternative imports of liquid natural gas (LNG), as demanded by the US, have little room in Germany's energy transition. Germany has sought to allay fears by making guarantees that Poland and Ukraine do not stand to lose out from the pipeline while Russia has signalled that Nord Stream 2 also could become an important route for hydrogen trading with Europe.

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