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What Europe Thinks Of Sanctions On Russia


The White House now says that President Trump will sign the U.S. Russian sanctions bill. That legislation has raised some eyebrows in Europe. What's raising them? Well, it involves a pipeline, lawmakers and the smell of vengeance all mixed together. To explain what affects the Russian sanctions could have on Europe, Rem Korteweg joins us from the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch-based academy for international affairs. Welcome.

REM KORTEWEG: Thank you very much.

GONYEA: So let's just start in general. How is the European Union reacting to this sanctions bill?

KORTEWEG: So the European Union is reacting with a sense of nervousness and uncertainty about the sanctions bill and not because it doesn't agree with the fact that the thumbscrews should be put on Russia or on Iran or North Korea for that matter. But there is one particular issue that the Europeans are concerned about, and that is the clause in the bill that suggests that there might be U.S. sanctions on energy projects, namely those energy projects with Russia.

GONYEA: And that is a relationship that Europe has with Russia that the U.S. does not have - energy.

KORTEWEG: Exactly. So the United States imports exactly zero percent of its gas from Russia. And Europe, on the other hand, gets approximately one-third of its gas from Russia. And so in this new pipeline project called Nord Stream 2, there are a number of very large Western European energy companies involved. And so from the European Commission's point of view, any possible sanctions that would hurt the Nord Stream 2 project would also harm several European companies.

GONYEA: Before we get too far, I think I should have you explain, what is Nord Stream 2?

KORTEWEG: Right. So Nord Stream 2 is arguably the most controversial Russian pipeline project in Europe of the past decade. It's controversial because it would create a diversionary pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea floor and would allow the Russians to cut off gas transits through Ukraine.

GONYEA: So it's already controversial. Now, we have the overlay of these sanctions. Is it a matter of some in Europe feeling like they could become collateral damage in what is really a dispute between the U.S. and Russia here?

KORTEWEG: I think that's the correct way to describe this. And up until now, the United States and Europe have worked really a hand-in-glove together on putting pressure on Russia. And now, as a response to the Russian hacking in the presidential elections and some of the cyber concerns and what have you, the United States is absolutely right to take its own approach to Russia and to increase sanctions. But the Europeans are concerned that they're going to be caught in the middle if we go down the road of slapping sanctions in an uncoordinated way on some of these energy projects.

GONYEA: Russia has already responded in retaliation, ordering U.S. Embassy staff in Russia cut, also banning the use of certain property. What do the Europeans make of that?

KORTEWEG: I haven't seen a response by the Europeans on this so far. I do think that we haven't passed that point of no return, where things will really go down the road of more transatlantic friction. But I do think that as soon as this bill is signed that some signaling has to be done, both in Europe, as well as in the United States that the United States is not going to take unilateral action or not confer with the European Commission if it decides to take any steps against a pipeline project like Nord Stream 2.

GONYEA: Rem Korteweg is the head of the Europe in the World program at the Clingendael Institute. Thank you.

KORTEWEG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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