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Washington dictates EU energy policy

Europe finds itself torn between opposing ideologies

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The Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is clearly showing itself to be one of the most polarizing issues in European political circles, and demonstrates in a very clear manner how foreign policy is perceived by European states. Some are able to forego certain aspects of their political hostility towards Russia in areas where insisting upon it would result in considerable damage to their own economic outlook, where others persist in their political russophobia regardless of the consequences. A former Turkish diplomat and finance and energy geopolitical expert discusses this subject with Sputnik, as well as the influence being exerted by Washington on the issue.

Sputnik reports:

Denmark has claimed that it can legally stop the Nord Stream 2 project if it chooses to. Mehmet Ogutcu, a former Turkish diplomat and expert in finance, energy and geopolitics and who now chairs the investment advisory group Global Resources Partnership, as well as the Bosphorus Energy Club, has given his take on the prospects of the project.

Mehmet Ogutcu: This project is one of the most polarizing projects that the EU has ever discussed. I have no doubt that whatever the EU is doing right now, especially some factions within the EU, is politically motivated.

Mostly inspired by Washington, because the US is clearly against Nord Stream 2, for a couple of reasons; one being that they want to sell their over-priced LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] across the Atlantic, which is not in the interests of the European Union; and the second one, it is often heard, that this project is going to increase the EU’s dependence on Russia, which is around 30 percent overall, as for Germany it’s about 40 percent.

These concerns are leading to confusion within the European Union, and I don’t think it is only the legal arguments that the European Commission is putting forward. And it’s really motivated by political imperatives, especially the US threat with sanctions on European companies, as it does also not only in the case of Russia, but Iran, starting from November 4.

There is a very clear push for banning Iranian crude exports. It’s part of a concerted effort from Washington to penalize countries which are not in line with US interests.

Sputnik: Denmark has recently withheld from granting permission for the implementation of the project. Several European politicians have stated that Europe no longer has hard legal leverage to halt the project. What’s your feeling regarding that matter?

Mehmet Ogutcu: Denmark is the last string among all other countries, so it has already passed through Finland, Sweden, so Denmark is the last one. I think again here, the US probably has used its influence to block this project, which has already left it almost 5 billion euros, almost half of the whole investment foreseen for the project.

I believe that the pressure is real, coming from Washington, and also the concern among Central European countries, some of them at least, is very real; with increasing dependence on Russia and the fear that Russia might be using the pipeline as leverage in its relationships with these countries.

And the fate of the existing Ukrainian gas transit route arrangement, which will expire in 2019, as you know, at the end of the year, when also Nord Stream 2 is expected to come on stream – that’s another serious concern, because when you look at it from outside, objective thinking requires that a route that is stable and direct without any transit country, should be preferable to Ukraine, where we know what difficulties are, in terms of transparency, in terms of political difficulties and additional costs. However, in this project, Nord Stream 2, we cannot look at it only from the commercial, rational [perspective].

There are very strong geopolitical imperatives that we have to bear in mind. Also, you have to think of Nord Stream 2, not in isolation from the TurkStream Project, which is going ahead full speed in the Black Sea coming to Turkey.

I think everything is on schedule for bringing Russian gas to the Turkish Thrace, there are two strings there as well; altogether we have about 31 bcm [billion cubic meters] of gas coming. Part of it will stay in Turkey and part, especially from the second pipeline, will go to South and South Eastern Europe.

Again, when you discuss Nord Stream 2, you have to see it in the broader context of other Russian projects coming also through Turkey. We have to understand different dimensions in this project.

As it stands, I don’t think we can say that Danish concerns or Eastern and Central European concerns can easily be done away. The US, through the trade wars that we saw the Trump administration start, through sanctions towards Iran, China, Russia are real, I don’t think they’re going to go away. But this might lead to some modifications of the dates and approach of Nord Stream 2, as well as Turkish Stream I think; although the first stream has been completed, there is concern whether US sanctions will also be felt there.

Following America’s withdrawal from the nuclear nonproliferation agreement with Iran (JCPOA), reactions from European leaders were like that of a pendulum swinging back from its prior orientation. French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as saying “If we accept that other major powers, including allies… put themselves in a situation to decide our diplomacy, security for us, and sometimes even make us run the worst risks, then we are not more sovereign and we cannot be more credible to public opinion.”  However, the Nord Stream 2 project demonstrates that this sentiment is not universal across Europe.

The pipeline would bring Russian gas to Europe, but is perceived as an ‘energy weapon’ wielded by Russia in order to exert its control by Eastern European nations Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia. The perception from the political perspective of these countries is that there is a growing ‘Russian threat‘ that must be contained, and in terms of the Nord Stream 2 project, this means that it must be countered. For this reason, political leaders from these four countries have travelled to Washington, in hopes that they can lobby American politicians to exert their influence to help stop the Russian energy project:

InsideSources reports:

Russian revanchism is a repeated concern for the governments of many of the Central and Eastern European states. For these countries, membership in western organizations including the European Union and NATO offers economic benefits, but comes with the risk that moving too far away from alliance with Russia will provoke some sort of aggressive response from the government of Vladimir Putin. On Wednesday, leaders from Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova spoke to reporters and lawmakers at an event hosted by the American Foreign Policy Council, emphasizing the role that European energy security plays in global security and reiterating the need to both stop the Nord Stream 2 project and to promote the use of American energy and technology.

“Putin’s action is not limited to his aggression or use of military force. Russia’s sophisticated use of information warfare including cyberattacks is well know. Vladimir Putin also uses Russia’s energy supplies as a weapon against neighboring states. Nord Stream 2 is a political project that will increase Europe’s reliance on Russia,” said American Foreign Policy Council President Herman Pirchner.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a proposed project that would bring natural gas from Russia through the EU to Germany. For the countries whose leaders spoke on Wednesday, the pipeline is far more than an infrastructure project. Construction of the pipeline would provide Russia with additional leverage over European countries, they warned.

“Nord Stream 2 is one of the elements of energy weapons used by Russia against the world,” said Ukrainian parliamentary chairman Andriy Parubiy, who spoke through an interpreter.

The importance of energy security is not lost on Ukraine, where Russia has used its control over the energy markets to enact political concessions. On two occasions in recent memory, Russia halted gas shipments to Ukraine in the middle of a winter cold snap until the government there agreed to price increases and political concessions.

“Ukraine knows for sure that gas supplies, for Russia, are not about the economy. For Russia natural gas, first of all, is a mechanism for political influence,” Parubiy continued.

While some analysts have questioned America’s involvement in the region, saying that it has provoked Russian revanchism, the leaders repeatedly expressed their desire to work with both the U.S. government and American businesses to expand their sources of energy. Allowing Russia to have a monopoly over energy supplies gives the Russian government a worrying amount of control over neighboring countries, the leaders emphasized.

“Nord Stream 2 is a political, not an economic, project,” said Lithuanian Speaker of the Seimas Viktoras Pranckietis.

For Lithuania, constructing a gas terminal which allows it to recieve gas shipments from overseas was an important step in reducing its dependence on Gazprom and Russian energy. After completion of the terminal, natural gas prices fell by 30 percent. Last year, Lithuania received shipments of American natural gas for the first time, a sign that its dependence on Russian energy was further weakening.

When possible, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia are looking for ways to become energy secure through the development of domestic energy sources or through trade with neighboring countries. This offers an opportunity for American businesses, many of which have the technical expertise these countries need.

“It is very important that U.S. business comes to this part of the world,” said Pranckietis.

The Moldovan government agreed.

“In order to have independence, we look for solutions and we found a solution. Now we are starting the process of building a gas pipeline between Romania and Moldova, because Romania in three years will have enough gas to cover their needs and our needs,” said Andrian Candu, chairman of the Moldovan parliament.

The countries see energy security as a vital part of their independence and warn that construction of Nord Stream 2 provides Russia with additional money to fund expansionist actions abroad, while spreading corruption in Europe. The pipeline still awaits approval in Europe and the speakers urged the American government to throw its influence against the project.

“Mark my words, Nord Stream 2 will be stopped,” said Parubiy with confidence.

Washington already has incentive to stop the project, both to secure a market for American shale gas, which is significantly more expensive for the Europeans than the Russian gas, as well as to counteract a major Russian energy programme, thereby countering Russian influence in Europe as well as to nix a plan that might be beneficial for the Russian economy as well as for European-Russian relations. Hence, while some European powers are looking to partner with Russia on some key issues, such as the JCPOA and the Nord Stream 2, others are looking for ways to participate in Washington’s plan of Russian containment.

Of course, the excuses being promoted are not quite as sensical in the present political environment, objectively speaking, as Europe finds itself under economic threat not from the Russians, but from the Americans, who are attempting to dictate to them their foreign policy, security, trade, and energy interests under threat of sanctions and a budding trade war. This rift in energy policy in some ways mirrors the division on Europe’s migration policy, with some nations agreeing to take in migrants while others outright refuse, with some EU member states investing in Russian energy programs while others intend to buck it, with all the help from Washington that they can muster. It would appear, then, that all of this talk about ‘an economy of trust‘ and Macron’s words about European sovereignty are falling on deaf ears among some European partners.

 

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NATO’s eastward push clashes with Church Canons in the Ukraine

Amid other geopolitical machinations on the “Eastern front” there is one that has so far largely passed under the radar although its potential as a crisis detonator (or perhaps more properly, exacerbator) in the Ukraine and the surrounding Eastern Orthodox domains should not be underestimated.

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Petro Poroshenko meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Quite “spontaneously,” as these things are, won’t to happen, agitation at state and ecclesiastical levels in the Ukraine has been turned on to demand autocephaly, which in Orthodox church terminology is self-ruled status for the Orthodox religious community in the Ukraine.

But not for just any of the existing communities (there are at least two major ones, the Orthodox church in spiritual communion with the Russian Orthodox patriarchy in Moscow, and a breakaway group espousing all the politically correct Ukrainian nationalist and Russophobic views). Alert and politically savvy readers should have guessed that in this controversy center-stage is the breakaway, NATO-friendly group.

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The seemingly plausible argument is that since the Ukraine is an “independent” country, it is entitled also to have its own “independent” national Orthodox church to go along with that. That may or may not be so, depending on how church authorities in charge of these matters interpret and apply the relevant provisions of church law, or cannons. But before the issue was even presented to higher church councils for a ruling, the Ukrainian government itself avidly jumped into the fray to support its local Russophobic ecclesiastical proteges.

Needless to say, the Moscow Patriarchy affiliate in the Ukraine, which is followed by a majority of believers in that country, has taken a strong stand against the combined offensive against it of the NATO backed regime and its allies, anti-Russian zealots in cassocks. That means that now a new religious front also has been opened in the portion of Ukraine controlled by the Kiev regime.

It is an attempt to complete the process already begun in the spheres of language, culture, education, history, and a number of other key areas, in this case to extirpate the last vestiges of “malign” Russian spiritual influence by severing the last remaining ecclesiastical link to Moscow. Driving the point home are the fervent partisans of the “native” Ukrainian church, led by defrocked former bishop Philaret Denysenko, now styling himself the new Ukrainian patriarch.

The fact that in the early 90s the same Denysenko, who at that time was an Orthodox bishop, had no qualms about putting forward his candidacy for Patriarch of Russia, and that, although a Russian-speaker, he subsequently embraced Ukrainian nationalism and conveniently developed passionate anti-Russian sentiments only after failing to achieve that objective, is beside the point. What matters is that he has now become a willing tool and visible symbol of the hybrid war being waged by NATO against Russia in the region, a war which in this instance has also a vibrant religious component.

What must be making hybrid war experts at the headquarters in Mons and other centers which attend to such matters jubilant is that igniting a religious confrontation in the Ukraine holds for them much more than merely local benefits. It is equivalent to opening a Pandora’s Box in the most literally geopolitical, and not just purely religious sense of the expression. A dispute of this nature cannot be properly settled either within the Ukraine itself or by means of intra-church dialogue between Kiev and Moscow.

In the Orthodox world it is possible for a national church to gain self-rule, or autocephaly, but only under strictly prescribed conditions designed to preserve church unity and harmony. That means, at a minimum, that the consent of the Mother Church (in this case the Moscow Patriarchate) is required, as well as the approval of all the other churches around the world which form the Orthodox communion. And on top of that, to greatly complicate matters, there is also the ambiguous role in this process of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchy in Constantinople (Istanbul).

That see traditionally enjoys the position of “first among equals,” and it is not expected to act unilaterally but in consultation with other churches in resolving important issues. In the last couple of decades, however, it has notably tried to shake off those institutional constraints and has sought to turn itself into the Orthodox equivalent of the Roman Catholic Vatican.

The precarious position of the Ecumenical Patriarchy in Turkey, where it has very few, mostly ethnic Greek, followers remaining and is under heavy, and frankly unreasonable pressure from the essentially hostile Turkish government, since about the middle of the last century has motivated its patriarchs to seek the friendship and protection of Western NATO powers, simply to survive. That protection, however, did not come free of charge. Increasingly, and in particular during the Cold War period, the Ecumenical patriarch has been obligated to actively support various Western political initiatives. The increasingly Islamist complexion of the Turkish regime has now made toeing the Western line an existential necessity to an even greater degree.

Hence the unprecedented move by Poroshenko, during his visit to Turkey in April, taking a practical shortcut to resolve the Ukrainian situation without waiting first for a broad Orthodox Church consensus on the issue to emerge. Instead, Poroshenko urged directly the trapped  Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to personally, and without bothering to consult peers, issue to Denysenko and his Kiev flock a grant of self-rule, in the requested form as patriarch of the NATO-invented and anointed “Ukrainian Orthodox Church.”

To sweeten the deal, Poroshenko was supposed to bring in his coffers $25 million collected by devout Ukrainian oligarchs in the US, as a humble offering to patriarch Bartholomew to take a benevolent view of the fervent plea delivered to him on behalf of the Ukrainian faithful. Remarkably, the delivery of only a $10 million gift to the Patriarchy was recorded by the time the pious emoluments actually reached their destination in Istanbul. Where the missing $15 million might have evaporated can only be guessed, but given the Ukrainians’ sticky fingers when handling cash it does not require a long stretch of the imagination.

Predictably, the Russian Orthodox Patriarchy took a very dim view of such back-door church politicking lubricated with plenty of cash, even if one considers only the diminished sum that actually reached the designated recipients. Its foreign relations spokesman, Metropolitan Hilarion, warned the patriarch in Istanbul that he was playing with fire by turning a receptive ear to Kiev’s entreaties because, in his view, granting Ukrainian church self-rule (autocephaly) in disregard of canonical regulations would be “to cause a Great Schism equivalent to the one that occurred a thousand years ago”.

It should not be forgotten that this is no idle threat because the Russian church is the most numerous among Orthodox nations and a split between it and the Ecumenical see in Istanbul would plunge the entire Orthodox world into disarray. But that is just what the NATO doctors ordered, isn’t it?

It is, of course, quite normal for officials of the Russian church to seek to protect their faithful and safeguard their status in the Ukraine. But the impending, NATO-engineered convulsion, using the alleged spiritual needs of its Ukrainian colony as a hollow pretext, unleashed within the Orthodox religious communion which sits astride the arc of geopolitical competition stretching from the Balkans to Russia, and from the Black Sea basin into the Caucasus, with a significant historical presence throughout the Middle East, is fraught with serious implications.

For one thing, its clear purpose is to add another layer to the campaign to “isolate Russia,” this time around by disrupting Russia’s spiritual and cultural ties to other kindred Orthodox lands, which may soon face a contrived “religious” choice between Moscow and Istanbul. The fact that the “choice” is couched in seemingly canonical rather than unapologetically and crudely political terms, makes it no less political.

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Terrorism

Possible terror attack at California mall thwarted by anti-jihad activist

Angry Muslim women and a shady Muslim man’s carefully-placed backpack were all part of the terrorism scene at the LA shopping mall on July 7.

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Los Cerritos Center, Los Angeles. Photo: losangeles.cbslocal.com

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office and the Los Cerritos Shopping Center are hush hush for now. It’s not yet clear if it was an attempted terror attack or just a dry run, but what is clear enough is that an observant anti-jihad activist thwarted the plans of some ill-intentioned Muslims on Saturday, July 7.

According to Big League Politics, Steve Amundson, the founder of the Counter Jihad Coalition (CJC), trained to detect security threats, noticed several alarming clues that led him to believe a terror attack was underway.

The last straw was when an angry Muslim carefully placed his backpack under the CJC’s table outside the Los Cerritos Shopping Center and walked away, later refusing to retrieve it.

Amundson was on the street that day with a pastor colleague, passing out literature about Islam and the threat it poses to America and other Western nations. An unidentified Muslim man wearing a backpack approached the pastor and began furiously arguing with him.

“Before leaving the table, Amundson says he witnessed the Muslim man strategically place his backpack underneath the CJC booth and walk away,” Laura Loomer writes for Big League Politics.

Amundson asked the pastor if he knew the Muslim man. When he said no, Amundson immediately reported the incident to mall security.

Loomer lays out the events and “red flags” leading up to mall security being called:

The events that unfolded next are shocking, and quite disturbing. Amundson told Big League Politics that after he alerted mall security, they approached the man and asked him if the backpack was his. The man said the backpack did belong to him, but he then refused to retrieve his backpack that he had placed underneath the CJC booth before walking away.

After a discussion with security, the Muslim man walked away with security, and security carefully took the backpack.

Over the past six months that Amundson and his colleagues have been tabling, he has experienced an increase in physical attacks against himself and his booth. For this reason, Amundson says he and his colleagues are trained to detect security threats and what they call “red flags”. While passing out literature on Saturday, Amundson says he witnessed and documented several red flags at the Los Cerritos Shopping Center.

The first red flag occurred when two Muslim men inside the mall began snapping pictures of the CJC booth and making phone calls shortly after. Amundson witnessed this and recognized it as “red flag one.”

bigleaguepolitics.com

The second red flag occurred when two Muslim women approached the booth and began cursing at the CJC’s booth operators, calling them liars. Mall security observed the hostile interaction and began speaking to the two women. It was at that moment when the two Muslim women distracted security that a white haired Muslim male walked over to the booth and slid his backpack under that table.

Mall security has thus far declined to confirm if the Muslim man was arrested or if the bomb squad had been called. Thus, it remains unclear if this was a dry run or the real deal.

The report continues:

Amundson’s experience at the shopping center is disturbing and concerning for many reasons, primarily because it appears as though the mall security and Sheriff’s Office are actively working to keep the public and Amundson in the dark about what appears to be a dry run of a jihadi attack. What happened to Amundson at the shopping center is a very serious incident the needs to be further investigated and disclosed to the public to ensure that people are aware of the threat that is clearly present within their own community.

Amundson applied to have another CJC booth at the same mall on July 21, which mall security rejected, citing safety concerns: “While we understand your organization’s right to engage in free speech subject to reasonable time, place and manner rules, we must consider the safety of the Center’s patrons.”

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Maria Butina, her crime: A love of the NRA and being Russian (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has communicated to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Russian national Maria Butina must be set free and allowed to return to Russia, after she was arrested by US officials on dubious spy charges.

Lavrov said that the US should immediately release the Russian gun activist, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, after a phone conversation with his US counterpart.

Lavrov called the charges levied against Butina “fabricated.”

In his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, “Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable.”

In an official statement the Russian Foreign Ministry called for her “immediate release.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the oddly timed, out of the blue arrest of Maria Butina, who is being held by US authorities for what they claim to be a violation of the FARA act.

In reality Maria Butina’s crime is much more troubling than simply failing to register as a foreign agent.

Maria made the double mistake of being in the United States of America as a Russian citizens who loves guns, at a time when racism and bigotry against Russians and NRA supporters is surpassing McCarthyite levels.

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Via RT

The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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