In the dispute over the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2, the US is putting increasing pressure on German companies. After threatening sanctions at the end of December, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell wrote a letter.
Written on 3 January on embassies of the embassy, the document reached several German companies that have signed financing agreements with the North Stream consortium. On two pages closely described to the SPIEGEL, the ambassador comes quickly to the point: Immediately in the first sentence means unequivocally that the US has long resisted the project by any means. Then Grenell claims that the US resistance is widespread in Eastern Europe, but also in Canada.
The hardest sentence comes at the very end, after Trump's envoy claims that the US Congress has already prepared sanctions. "We never tire of emphasizing that all companies involved in Russian energy exports through pipelines are affected by a significant sanction risk." This threatens Grenell clearly that every German company – such as the investor Uniper or Wintershall – takes a significant risk. In the last sentence, he recommends that every company should intensively examine the danger to itself and its reputation.
Affected by Grenell's threats are not just several German companies. In Berlin these days it is said again and again that Americans would target two companies, which are currently building the pipeline. This refers to the Allseas Group based in Switzerland and the Italian company Saipem from near Milan. Both are contractors to the consortium and relocate the pipeline with special vessels.
Nord Stream 2 is to transport gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea to Germany. The construction of the 1200-kilometer route has already begun, among others in Germany, although the final course has not yet been established.
The US and Ukraine, but also some eastern EU states like Poland want to stop the project. They argue with the threat emanating from Russia. Transit fees for Russian gas are also an important source of revenue for Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.
"Governor of an Emperor", "High Commissioner"?
Grenell did not want to keep his unmistakable threat secret. Shortly after sending the letter, he already gave the "Handelsblatt" an interview with very similar sentences. Even then, the Foreign Office (AA) was not much amused. Still diplomatically, Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) asked Grenell to stay away from an economic project that would ensure energy security in Europe.
That Grenell also threatened in writing leaves the diplomats now at a loss. The obvious option would be to summon the Ambassador formally to the Foreign Office on Monday and to protest his threatening gestures. However, it is not only the closest advisers to Maas who doubt that the strongest weapon in diplomacy will do anything for an envoy like Grenell. He himself knows the American quite well and has already experienced how he turns the facts after a conversation.
Nevertheless, Foreign and Chancellery want to discuss again on Monday, if and how to respond to Grenell and his ever new provocations. One or the other advises, just not to respond to the maneuvers of the Trump faithful.
Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the Left Party in the Bundestag, Fabio De Masi, called on the federal government to coerce Grenell. "The US ambassador has apparently gained the impression that he is the governor of an imperor from Washington in Germany," criticized the Bundestag on Sunday. Extraterritorial sanctions against German companies are contrary to international law.
The deputy SPD chairman Ralf Stegner asked, apparently in reference to the occupation statute of the post-war years, on twitter: "Whether Mr. Grenell knows that the time of the High Commissioners in Germany is over?"
For Jürgen Hardt, the foreign policy spokesman of the CDU / CSU parliamentary group, the threats to German companies are "a new and unacceptable one-sided tightening of the tone in the transatlantic relationship". The federal government should protest against it.
The letters sent Grenell after researching the "Bild am Sonntag" probably in coordination with various US authorities to the corporations. At the request of companies who asked how they should respond to the letter, the Foreign Ministry advised, according to "Handelsblatt", not to answer.
A spokesman for Grenell said "Bild am Sonntag" that the letter should not be construed as a threat, "but as a clear message of US policy." The accusation of blackmail, the US diplomats in Berlin back: "The only thing that could be described in this situation as extortion, would be the influence of the Kremlin on the future gas supply," said the embassy spokesman.