The United States expects Germany to put a halt to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the Americans are not mentioning the fact that they themselves import plenty of oil from Russia.
BERLIN — On his return flight from his inaugural visit to Washington on Monday evening, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was half-jokingly asked to say “Nord Stream 2”, so that he would have uttered the irritant word at least once on his trip. Scholz did it. In all his public statements, he had consistently avoided mentioning the controversial gas pipeline by name.
Americans, both the politicians and the media, tried hard to pressure the Chancellor into making a clear statement that a shutdown of Nord Stream 2 could be part of sanctions against Russia if Vladimir Putin orders his troops to march towards Ukraine.
There was anger in the U.S. media at Scholz’s silence. But the Americans did not want to talk about their own supply of raw materials from Russia. The question of whether the U.S. intends to stop importing Russian oil in the event of a conflict was not answered by U.S. President Joe Biden. With good reason. Because Russia is an important energy supplier for the United States.
U.S. oil imports from Russia
The U.S. imports by far the largest quantities of oil from Canada. But Russia is becoming increasingly important as a source of oil for the U.S. In 2021, Russia replaced Mexico as the second most important exporter of oil and petroleum products to the U.S. for certain months, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Therefore, the U.S. government has no interest in raising the issue of halting oil imports from Russia as a sanction tool — while at the same time urging the German government to threaten a Nord Stream 2 blockade.
Scholz is silent on this. Like Biden, he is keen to emphasize unity among allies, because that is precisely what Putin wants to undermine. But in Germany, the U.S. strategy is certainly being questioned.
U.S. president Joe Biden and German chancellor Olaf Scholz meeting in Washington on Feb. 7
Filling Putin’s coffers
“The question of whether Russia’s extensive oil deliveries to the United States shouldn’t be part of a sanctions package is legitimate,” Michael Roth, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German parliament, tells die Welt. “We have agreed that in the case of Russian aggression, all options can be on the table. So, if everything is on the table, nothing is beside or under the table,” Roth said.
But the question of what concrete effects this could have on U.S. oil imports should be clarified in confidential talks. In order to keep Putin in the dark as much as possible about possible sanctions, Berlin and Washington are keeping quiet about whether a U.S. blockade of Russian oil could be part of the countermeasures.
Russia’s main goal with Nord Stream 2 is to eliminate Ukraine from gas transit to Europe
Nils Schmid, a member of parliament with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), demands that it should be. “When you start talking about individual points like Nord Stream 2, you also have to talk about other individual points like U.S. oil imports from Russia,” says Schmid, who is the foreign policy spokesman for his parliamentary group. “After all, the Russians have yet to earn a cent from the new pipeline, while oil exports pour billions into Putin’s coffers.”
The opposition in the Bundestag is also urging the U.S. to openly acknowledge the possibility of an embargo on Russian oil. “All conceivable sanctions against Russia in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine must be borne jointly by Europe and the U.S. This includes not only the shutdown of Nord Stream 2, but also a ban on imports of Russian oil to America,” said Mark Helfrich, member of parliament with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and energy policy expert.
Wider criticism of the U.S. stance
Criticism of the U.S. government’s actions also comes from other factions within the opposition. “The U.S. is proving to be duplicitous when referring to Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, while at the same time massively increasing its own oil imports from Russia,” says Left Party politician and chair of the Bundestag Committee on Climate Protection and Energy, Klaus Ernst.
And Tino Chrupalla, co-chairman of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, explains: “The fact that the U.S. wants to force Germany to import expensive and environmentally damaging fracking gas from America, while they themselves obtain inexpensive oil from Russia, is unfair on the allies. The German government must act in Germany’s interest and not accept this without any objections.”
CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter, however, points out that gas deliveries via Nord Stream 2 cannot be compared to U.S. oil imports from Russia. “Russia’s main goal with Nord Stream 2 is to eliminate Ukraine from gas transit to Europe, and it opens the possibility for Moscow to increase political and military pressure on Ukraine without jeopardizing gas trade with Western Europe. This is not the case for the U.S. imports,” Kiesewetter said. “In this respect, it is understandable that the U.S. weighs Nord Stream 2 primarily as a political project and not in connection to its own economic relations.”
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