Russian sanctions push EU from US

By George N. Tzogopoulos Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/3 20:13:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The rhetoric of Donald Trump during his presidential campaign and his open stance for collaboration with Moscow after his inauguration led a majority of analysts, journalists and scholars to predict a reset in the relationship, to be followed by a better understanding between the two sides.

Some pundits went even further, and said that Trump's plan was motivated by a desire to break the Sino-Russian partnership and move Russia away from China by promising a rapprochement with the US.

To take the beginning of a new chapter in relations between Washington and Moscow for granted was risky from the beginning. No American president can decide policy alone as the Congress plays a critical role.

The most recent example came only a few days ago. By overwhelming majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of new sanctions against Russia. In particular, the new legislation gives the Congress new power to block Trump from easing sanctions against Russia. It certainly ties the hands of Trump and is regarded by CNN a "tough message" to the president because it signaled bluntly that Republicans and Democrats do not trust him. Trump has no alternative but to sign the bill.

Russia reacted strongly to the sanctions bill. President Vladimir Putin ordered the US to slash staff at its diplomatic missions in Russia by 755, or nearly two thirds, in retaliation. Now it is not clear who will stop working and if they will be Russian or American employees. Although some commentators believe that diplomatic reductions are among the simplest countermeasures possible, this is the harshest such diplomatic move since a similar rupture in 1986, in the waning days of the Soviet Union.

More importantly, the deterioration of relations between the US and Russia is not constructive, neither does it help international cooperation. As the two sides need to be reliable partners on a variety of issues such as the fight against terrorism, continuing mutual suspicion undermines potential joint efforts.

During the recent G20 Hamburg Summit, Trump and Putin held their first meeting, in the presence of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The content of specific conversations has not been publicized but the relevant tweets of Trump signaled better days to come. But since then, signs of optimism are no longer evident.

From another perspective, new US sanctions against Russia have also affected the transatlantic partnership. The provisions affecting Europe allow Washington to impose sanctions on Western businesses working with Russian energy companies. German companies could be among the first economic victims as long as they are cooperating with Gazprom for the construction of the so-called Nord Stream II pipeline. In an interview with Funke Mediengruppe, German Economy Minister Brigitte Zypries considers sanctions "as being against international law, plain and simple." She also encouraged the European Commission to look for countermeasures.

The situation is perplexing. On the one hand, the EU is currently experiencing problematic cooperation with the US due to Trump's indifference toward European affairs. And on the other, the EU is in the process of intensifying its efforts to reduce its energy dependency on Russia. So, Zypries' request might cause new disagreements at the European level and discord between the European Commission and member states since a midway solution needs to be found to satisfy all parties.

Subsequently, it will be interesting to see how Germany will combine the EU's energy priorities with its own business interests to construct Nord Stream II, while at the same time keeping a workable relationship with the US under the Trump administration.

It seems unlikely for now that Germany will take sides with Russia in the wake of the new US sanctions adopted by the Congress.

But certainly Moscow should not be regarded as being isolated at the international level - and this certainly refers to Europe.

The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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