Image copyright EPA Image caption US President Donald Trump has given his backing to the plan to build a second Nord Stream 2 pipeline across the Baltic Sea
The White House has suggested building a second Russian gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea – a move that could see the US influence “bigger things” in the future.
The US-backed plan to build a second pipeline has been strongly opposed by eastern European countries who fear it will lead to energy dependency on Russia.
It is also widely believed that US and British intelligence agencies have been actively monitoring the projects.
In its first major public intervention on the project, the White House said Russia’s role in undermining Ukraine made it “clear that we cannot allow a nation with hostile intentions” to have gas-cushing in this part of Europe.
“Even better, there are other ways Russia could play the card of ‘energy domination’ as part of the effort to exert more influence,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders added in a statement.
“We look forward to seeing more nations join the US and our allies in decoupling their energy futures from Russia’s and elsewhere”, she said.
US and UK intelligence have been monitoring the deals in order to assess whether they could be used as leverage to persuade the Kremlin to stop its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine or to threaten other countries in the region.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently hailed a “new US partnership” with Poland over the project, which he said would “lift costs off” energy for Poland.
The new pipeline is now being built near Bodo in northern Germany. The pipeline will carry 11bn cubic metres of Russian gas – the equivalent of 7% of European gas consumption.
Critics fear that Ukraine will be unable to transport enough of the gas to the east to benefit from lower gas prices when the project is completed in mid-2020.
Some hope, however, that the pipeline will lead to a jump in eastern European gas prices and a gradual shift in Russian influence from the east to the west.
The White House backed a proposal for a second pipeline last year, saying it would “be a very powerful instrument for pressure on Russia”.
Image copyright EPA Image caption The pipeline is being built near Bodo in northern Germany
The plan has been strongly opposed by eastern European countries who fear it will lead to energy dependency on Russia.
But its sister pipeline, Nord Stream 2, is working well enough so far that German and French energy companies would be interested in building another pipeline.
It is believed to be 24 miles (40km) longer than the existing one, with a capacity to carry 55bn cubic metres of Russian gas per year – that’s about a fifth of Europe’s current gas consumption.
It is also estimated to be 49% more energy efficient than the current pipeline.
Talks are also continuing with Saudi Arabia on another potential pipeline project for US firms.
The US has not commented on those talks.
Image copyright EPA Image caption US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has hailed a “new US partnership” with Poland over the pipeline
But the Trump administration has signed on to a strategy paper drawn up by Nato partners agreeing not to “incite or support energy crisis”, in a move that would potentially prevent countries like Poland and Lithuania from importing even more gas from Russia.
Proponents of the pipeline are keen to point out that much of Europe’s gas is already sourced from Russia.
“A significant share of the gas supply to the region is expensive, polluting, and subject to Russian and other security-constrained routes”, the paper warns.
In addition, it says gas prices are likely to increase over the next decade “due to technological progress and the rise of demand”.