This appeared in ‘The Washington Post’
Recent events have made strikingly clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not America’s friend. He is a very skilled — and very cunning — adversary.
Putin has proven through his actions that he views everything as a potential tool to gain an advantage economically, politically and militarily. One of his most powerful tools is Russia’s energy resources, and he has used Europe’s reliance on these resources to strengthen his position. Some European leaders have been all too willing to take the bait.
This was the point President Trump was making at a NATO summit this month. He caused a stir for speaking undiplomatically in a room of diplomats. He was also pointing out what everyone in the room already knew: Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas undermines its security.
Trump also understands, as he demonstrated this week in his talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, that the United States can and should help solve this problem. By supplying our own natural gas reserves to Europe, the United States can loosen Putin’s economic grip on the region.
Europe has a rapidly growing need for natural gas; German consumption alone increased by 22 percent from 2014 to 2017. And Russia is already Europe’s dominant supplier, providing about 40 percent of natural gas imports of European Union countries. Germany gets more than 50 percent of its natural gas imports from Russia. Some E.U. countries get 100 percent.
In fact, Russia is taking advantage of this need by building a new pipeline to send natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea. This pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, would significantly increase the capacity to ship Russian natural gas into Germany and the rest of Europe, making the region even more susceptible to coercion and control.
This cannot happen. When an aggressive, opportunistic country such as Russia controls so much of the market in these countries, it has monopolistic powers. We’ve seen Putin use his natural gas to threaten and extort other countries. Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, 2009 and 2014. It invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea in part to cut off access to the energy resources there.
Some European countries recognize the danger. Poland has criticized the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and plans to stop importing Russian natural gas by 2022. Ukraine and the Baltic countries have also spoken out against the new pipeline. These countries have vivid memories of what Russian aggression looks like. They see Putin’s energy dominance as a political and economic weapon to be used against them.
Last year, Congress gave the president authority to impose sanctions on Russian pipelines. We’ve made clear that we want to roll back Russia’s energy invasion of Europe. Now, Congress should take the next step and mandate sanctions against any person or business assisting Russia with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Companies that are helping to finance the project would have to choose between dropping their support for Russia and facing restrictions such as access to the American financial system.
Clearly these kinds of sanctions don’t just affect Russia. They have an impact on other countries as well. This is especially true for Germany, which has strong economic ties to Moscow. U.S. and E.U. sanctions over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea hit German companies doing business with Russia especially hard.
By increasing exports of American natural gas, the United States can help our NATO allies escape Russian strong-arming. America is the world’s leading producer of clean, versatile natural gas. There are two export facilities in the United States. able to ship natural gas overseas — one in Maryland and one in Louisiana. Three more are due to be operational by the end of this year, and at least 20 additional projects are awaiting federal permits. We must speed up these approvals to give our allies alternatives to Russian gas.
We have plenty of natural gas to meet Americans’ needs and increase our exports. Independent studies have found that prices will remain low even with significant gas exports. Now we just need to clear away the regulatory hurdles and show our European allies that U.S. natural gas is a wiser option than Russia’s.
When Putin looks at natural gas, he thinks of politics, he thinks of money and he thinks of power. It is in America’s national security interests to help our allies reduce their dependence on Russian energy. We need to make clear how important it is for their own security, as well.
Our NATO alliance is strong. Ending Europe’s dependence on Russian energy will make it even stronger.
John Barrasso, a Republican, is a senator from Wyoming and member of the Foreign Relations Committee.