July 11 (UPI) -- Germany is within the Russian sphere of influence because of its support for a Gazprom pipeline and dependency on Russian gas, the U.S. president said.
U.S. President Donald Trump arrived Wednesday in Brussels to meet with NATO representatives. Seated across from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the president said U.S. commitments to European defense were undermined by Germany's ties to the Russian energy sector.
German energy company Wintershall is involved with Russian natural gas company Gazprom's push to double the Nord Stream pipeline running through the Baltic Sea to Germany. The Kremlin contends the pipeline supports European security because it avoids security risks in Ukraine, through which several Soviet-era gas pipelines stretch. Some European leaders, however, worry Nord Stream would strengthen Russian influence in the energy sector.
Trump said "Germany is totally controlled by Russia," because of those ties. "And you tell me if that's appropriate, because I think it's not."
Stoltenberg acknowledged that Nord Stream was a source of disagreement with Germany.
"But the strength of NATO is that despite these differences, we have always been able to unite around our core task, to protect and defend each other, because we understand that we are stronger together than apart," he said.
A spokesperson for Wintershall said in response to emailed questions the company doesn't comment on political statements. The company's chief executive officer, Mario Mehran, told UPI last year that Europe shouldn't get caught in the geopolitical issues of energy.
"The framework conditions for the energy cooperation between Russia and Europe are determined by the European countries themselves -- and not by third-party countries," he said in August 2017.
Some voices in the European energy sector contend U.S. pressure on Germany and Russia is a veiled way to advance liquefied natural gas into the region. Some countries like Poland, which has few resources of its own, have already received LNG from the United States.
Pointing to conflict between Russia and Georgia a decade ago, which threatened the 1,099-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, Healy Baumgardner, a global fossil fuel adviser and the former press secretary for the Energy Department under President George W. Bush, told UPI it's naïve to try to decouple energy from political issues.
"Facts are, energy is a key component of national security -- would you rather rely on Russia or the United States?" she said. "This narrative has much deeper context because whoever controls energy distribution in Eurasia has the control and this has always been the contest between the United States and Russia."