President Trump on Wednesday stoked divisions in Europe by wading into the middle of an intense fight over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline,…
President Trump on Wednesday stoked divisions in Europe by wading into the middle of an intense fight over the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, a project that critics fear will give Moscow new leverage in the region and could create a geopolitically dangerous Russian-German economic alliance.
At a high-stakes NATO summit in Brussels, the president blasted the $9.1 billion pipeline and argued that it is giving Russia undue influence over Berlin and, by extension, fracturing the solidarity of NATO.
Mr. Trump’s concerns about the project — which would funnel gas through the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Russia’s traditional land routes through Ukraine and other Eastern European nations — are shared by a host of European leaders outside of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
While the Trump administration opposes the project for a host of reasons, including the potential for the Russian government to place spying devices along the Nord Stream route, the president zeroed in on one specific danger: that the project will draw Moscow and Berlin closer while alienating other European nations and that it creates a clear conflict of interest for Ms. Merkel’s government as NATO seeks to counter Russian aggression.
“I think it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, where you’re supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia. So we’re protecting Germany. We’re protecting France. We’re protecting all of these countries. And then [some European countries] go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia,” Mr. Trump said at a breakfast with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Mr. Trump said Germany is under the thumb of Russia as a result of the project, and he urged NATO to look into the issue.
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” the president said. “And you tell me if that’s appropriate, because I think it’s not, and I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened.”
Russia sent about 193 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe last year, accounting for about 40 percent all European natural gas.
The 745-mile Nord Stream 2, proposed by Russian-owned Gazprom with financial investments from other major international players such as Royal Dutch Shell, could double that amount.
Many Eastern European officials fear the undersea method could allow a hostile Moscow to shut off fuel shipments to perceived enemies such as Ukraine, for example, while still getting the fuel to Germany, which upon completion of the project would become the continent’s No. 1 natural gas hub.
It’s unclear exactly how much money Germany stands to make from the project, but it’s likely to be in the billions of dollars. Ukraine last year, for example, raked in about $3 billion in transit fees from Russia to allow gas to travel through the country.
The looming Russian-German energy power center is dangerous for European security, top regional officials have said, and complicates Berlin’s willingness and ability to impose economic sanctions on Moscow for its aggression against Ukraine, its meddling in foreign elections and other brazen acts.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called Nord Stream 2 a “political bribe” from Russia to Germany. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described it as a “new hybrid weapon” Russia can wield to control European energy supplies.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told The Washington Times last month that the pipeline is a dangerous project designed to help Russian President Vladimir Putin expand his power.
But the issue wasn’t expected to be on this week’s NATO agenda until Mr. Trump broached the subject. Mr. Stoltenberg tried to downplay the president’s comments later Wednesday and said the international body intends to stay out of the matter.
“It’s not for NATO to decide; this is a national decision,” he said.
After his initial public comments, Mr. Trump met face-to-face with Ms. Merkel. He later said they discussed Nord Stream 2 but did not give specifics of the conversation.
Ms. Merkel rejected the idea that Germany is in danger of falling under Moscow’s control.
“Because of given circumstances, I want to point out one thing: I experienced the Soviet occupation of one part of Germany myself. It is good that we are independent today,” said Ms. Merkel, who was born in 1954 and was raised in East Germany.
In addition to the president, other U. S. officials have taken to the world stage this week to decry the project.
“President Trump is absolutely right: Nord Stream II is a bad deal,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, North Carolina Republican, who introduced an anti-Nord Stream amendment Wednesday at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
“We cannot allow Russia to dramatically increase its stranglehold on European energy. I’m pleased to see my amendment adopted and will continue to work with the Trump administration and world leaders to stop the Kremlin from using energy to blackmail European democracies,” he said.
The consortium behind Nord Stream 2 says it expects the project to go online next year, though it has encountered strong resistance at the European Union level. The Trump administration also reportedly is weighing fresh economic sanctions against Moscow if it moves forward with the pipeline.
⦁ S. A. Miller contributed to this report.

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