U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says U.S. energy policy in Eastern Europe is a clear line of battle against Russia. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
March 23 (UPI) -- Moving U.S. energy supplies into Eastern Europe is one of the more powerful ways to contain Russian influence, the U.S. energy secretary said.
Addressing questions from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Russian actions, Perry said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee that he agreed that Russian cyberattacks on the U.S. energy sector were "an act of war" on the United States.
The U.S. Treasury Department revealed last week that Russian government actors targeted "multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors" with cyberattacks at least since March 2016.
A ransomware cyberattack from the so-called Petya or NotPetya bug targeted thousands of government and private corporate servers across the globe last year. The attack demanded a $300 ransom paid in Bitcoin to release the encryption imposed by the virus that prevents users from accessing their devices.
The Treasury Department said the NotPetya attack was attributed to the Russian military.
Blumenthal in his remarks questioned U.S. policy on Russia given the recent congratulatory message sent by President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin after his election victory, saying those messages removed the "deterrent effect" of U.S. policy toward Russia. Perry countered that U.S. energy policy was indeed directed at countering the influence of a main U.S. adversary.
"An energy policy where we can deliver energy to Eastern Europe, where we are a partner with people around the globe, where they know that we will supply them energy and there are no strings attached is one of the most powerful messages that we can send to Russia," Perry said.
The National Defense Authorization Act said U.S. efforts should promote energy security in Europe, stating Russia uses energy "as a weapon to coerce, intimidate and influence" countries in the region.
European natural gas production is on the decline, leaving the broader energy market vulnerable to export markets. Russia is the largest gas exporter to Europe and most of that gas runs through Soviet-era pipelines in Ukraine, where geopolitical issues create risk.
Shale natural gas from the United States, meanwhile, has made its way to the European market in the form of liquefied natural gas. Polish Oil & Gas, known by its acronym PGNiG, last year closed on a deal to accept LNG from Cheniere Energy, which owns a terminal in Louisiana that's the only one with the permits necessary for current exports of U.S. natural gas.
In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said European leaders in Brussels were getting duped into paying for "overpriced American liquefied natural gas."