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US diplomat warns Russia will use gas pipeline to tighten grip on Europe

Nord Stream - two pipes are welded together on the Castoro Sei pipelaying vessel. (Bair175/Wikimedia Commons)
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This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A top U.S. energy diplomat warned that Russia wanted to increase leverage over Europe and its grip over Ukraine, using the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

The comments December 10 by Francis Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for energy resources, were the latest push by U.S. officials to try and persuade European leaders to block or modify the pipeline deal.

Nord Stream 2 would run under the Baltic Sea, bringing Russian gas directly to Western Europe and bypassing the existing networks running through Ukraine.

Leaders of some of the largest industries in Germany and elsewhere have backed the pipeline as a way to diversify gas supplies. Germany’s foreign minister has said Berlin will not withdraw its political support for it and Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she secured a pledge from Russian President Vladimir Putin allowing gas shipments across Ukraine’s territory.

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The project, however, has been opposed both by President Donald Trump, and his predecessor Barack Obama as a tool for Russia to consolidate sway over Europe.

“Russia seeks to increase its leverage of the West while severing Ukraine from Europe,” Fannon said according to a transcript of the conference call.

Putin has said that Nord Stream is purely economic and not directed against other countries. Russian gas could continue to go through Ukraine if the pipeline is completed, he has said.

Ukraine, which has been in conflict with Russia since Moscow annexed the Crimea Peninsula in 2014, has warned that Moscow would use the pipeline as a political weapon.

Ukraine also stands to lose out on billions of dollars in transit fees if Russian gas bypasses it.

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