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The United States says it is still looking for ways to block a proposed natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, after the Danish government this week cleared away one of the last legal obstacles to the project, known as Nord Stream 2.
“The Department of Energy strongly believes that the Nord Stream 2 threatens the energy security and national security of U.S. allies in Europe [and] strengthens Russia’s control over the region’s energy supply,” said a DOE spokesperson, speaking on background.
“The United States will continue to look into all tools at its disposal regarding this project,” said the spokesperson. “All options are on the table.”
The Danish Energy Agency announced Wednesday that it would permit the proposed pipeline to pass through its exclusive economic zone, saying it was “obliged to allow the construction of transit pipelines” under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Edward C. Chow, senior associate in the Energy and National Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that the Danes had no choice but to issue the permits. The decision was “a routine administrative procedure under Danish law and international obligations,” he said, noting a similar announcement last week on a gas pipeline from Norway to Poland.
“These decisions are based on environment and safety criteria,” he added.
But Margarita Assenova, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said the completion of Nord Stream 2 still is not certain, even after the Danish decision.
She said Denmark held up the project for as long as it could after Nord Stream AG, the Switzerland-headquartered construction consortium that operates the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline, filed the first permit request to build the new pipeline through Danish territorial waters in 2017. She pointed out that the permit does not take effect for one month, allowing time for appeals that could slow down the process.
Assenova said the European Commission could introduce new obstacles under the terms of the European Union’s Gas Directive governing the internal gas market, which was amended in April to affect pipelines to and from third countries.
The U.S. Congress is also considering new sanctions to target vessels laying pipes for the project. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, urged the Senate this week to quickly pass the legislation in order to “halt this pipeline, and deprive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin the resources to fuel his expansionism and military aggression.”
The House of Representatives is working on additional sanctions as well.
Ilya Zaslavskiy, head of research of the Free Russia Foundation, believes the United States has the ability to stop the pipeline project. Zaslavskiy, who previously worked as an energy consultant in Moscow and New York, said the U.S. might apply tactics similar to those it used regarding another Russian pipeline, South Stream.
“They’re using it as a last resort as was the case with South Stream,” Zaslavskiy told VOA’s Ukrainian service. “They’re waiting for Europeans themselves to sort this out, and they were waiting for the decision from Denmark on the permits for Nord Stream 2. They want to see the European Commission act.”
However, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan has said it is unlikely that Washington will be able to halt the construction, which is already 80% complete. Sullivan made the comment this week during Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination to serve as U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Even if the sanctions are unable to stop the construction, they “will allow time for the European Commission to implement the amended Gas Directive,” Assenova argued. Passage of the bills currently before Congress “would stop the physical construction of the pipeline before it could be fully deployed.”
The U.S. sanctions will give important support to the position of Ukraine and the EU, the analyst said. “The sanctions are significant in stopping the pipeline construction in the short term also because they will strengthen the European Union’s and Ukraine’s hand in negotiating a new gas transit agreement with Russia post-2019.”