nord stream 2
© REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Trump hits Nordstream 2 firms with sanctions on pretense of protecting European interests from Russia as Germany and EU say 'keep out of it.' But does Europe have the power to shake them off?

If the Nordstream 2 pipeline proposed to carry cheese from Switzerland to Germany, and Donald Trump thought that by interfering he could lift America from sixth place on the list of world cheese exporters to higher up the rankings, making him a hero of US dairy farmers, he would be in there meddling, bad-mouthing and doing all he could to scupper the project.

So it should be no surprise that he has announced US sanctions against those responsible for building the 1,225 km pipeline from Kingisepp in Russia to Greifswald in Germany.

Because at the heart of his decision to wade into what is in the main a Russo-German project is that it excludes the US entirely from this deal and simultaneously impacts on its ability to flog its liquified natural gas (LNG) to European countries. It also gives Trump a chance to test the temperature in Europe to see who's on-side and who's not as he heads into 2020.The US has been working at this for some time.

Poland is on-side, along with the Baltic States. They called for sanctions at the start of 2018 when they decided to buy all their LNG from the USA - not Russia - starting in 2022. That has to be some deal. Now wind the clock back to May this year when US Energy Secretary Rick Perry (since embroiled in Ukraine scandal and resigned) was in Brussels announcing an agreement to sell 112 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to Europe starting next year.

At that time Perry boasted that the so-called "freedom gas" initiative showed "the United States is again delivering a form of freedom to the European continent and rather than in the form of young American soldiers, it's in the form of liquefied natural gas."

Puh-leez! What tosh!

Despite the embarrassing "we won it for you" WW2 rhetoric here, the figures tell the real story. While the US is selling 112 bn cubic meters of LNG to European nations, the Nordstream 2 project will actually pump only half of that, at 55 bn cubic meters beneath the Baltic Sea into its European market. Even if you add that to what Nordstream 1 carries (another 55 bn cubic meters) there is still clearly a market for all the gas available. Any attempts to sabotage the new deal amount to blatant economic bullying as the US seeks to seize the whole market for itself, excluding all competitors.

The claims this week that the sanctions were pro-European are simply disingenuous though Allsea, the Swiss-Dutch company that was laying the pipeline, and with just 300 km to go withdrew from the project, were easily spooked just as Trump would have wished.

The US had unleashed the hounds and threatened Allsea with "crushing and potentially fatal legal and economic sanctions," so their nerves can be understood.

While outright fury from the EU at this blatant interference was not on show, several news outlets reported EU sources saying that the bloc was opposed "as a matter of principle to the imposition of sanctions against European companies engaged in legal activities." Germany's reaction was stronger with a government spokeswoman saying the sanctions "will hit German and European companies and constitute an interference in our internal affairs."

At the same time, both Germans and Russians vowed to press on with the project.

So take the declaration from US ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell, with a grain of salt. He claims that after the Americans announced sanctions he had been "hearing from European diplomats all day today thanking me for taking such action."

What diplomats were those, Mr Ambassador? Doesn't that turn of phrase sound familiar? Small on detail, big on boast, it's straight out of his boss's media playbook. After all, Trump had earlier said, "It's a horrible thing that you have a pipeline from Russia," then claimed, "Germany is a captive of Russia."

Hardly true, but since when did that matter to the 45th?It is subtle dog-whistle diplomacy from Trump reflecting a familiar attitude post-WW2 with the US boasting it rid Germany of Nazism. However, the Germans recognise the role of Russia in that victory - it remains to be seen whether, 75 years later, they recognise the role of their northern neighbor in their energy security.