Wintershall warns U.S. against playing 'geopolitical football'

The president of the European Union said a response would unfold within days if U.S. sanctions on Russia interrupt the European energy market.
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  Aug. 3, 2017 at 9:17 AM
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Aug. 3 (UPI) -- German energy company Wintershall, a European partner with Russia's Gazprom, said the European energy sector can't be used for "geopolitical football."

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a bill into law that sanctions Iran, North Korea and Russia. The Russian measure in particular is significant given the election issue clouding the Trump administration.

Trump in a signing statement expressed reservations about the bill's impact, saying it encroaches on presidential authority and may harm U.S. interests as they relate to Russian diplomacy and outreach with European allies.

Sanctions on Russia relate in part to crude oil and natural gas pipeline infrastructure and came as the European market works to address diversity issues. Russia meets about a quarter of Europe's demand for energy and leaders in the European Union are wary because a company like Gazprom controls both the supplies and the transit networks.

German energy company Wintershall is in the Gazprom-led partnership working to expand the twin Nord Stream natural gas pipeline system through the Baltic Sea to Germany. Mario Mehran, the CEO of Wintershall, said in response to questions emailed by UPI it's still unclear how the legislation would impact energy and how any sanctions would be implemented.

On the broader issue, Mehran said sanctions could be used to advance U.S. economic interests in the European energy market. Shale natural gas from the United States has made its way to the European market in the form of liquefied natural gas, though the CEO said interfering in Russian energy could threaten European energy sector.

"Europe must not let itself become a geopolitical football," he said. "The framework conditions for the energy cooperation between Russia and Europe are determined by the European countries themselves -- and not by third-party countries."

European leaders themselves have expressed concerns about the possible impacts of sanctions on Russian energy. European Commission President Juncker said it appeared some of the measures enacted by U.S. lawmakers were watered down in order to address EU concerns.

"If the U.S. sanctions specifically disadvantage EU companies trading with Russia in the energy sector the EU is prepared to take appropriate steps in response within days," he said in a statement late Wednesday after the bill was signed.

Trump, seen as a trade protectionist, has been critical of European policies -- Germany's in particular. A survey published last week by Forsa Institute, on behalf of Wintershall, revealed concerns about U.S. energy interests in the region.

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