Germany, Austria slam US sanctions against Russia

PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks during a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Berlin, June 14, 2017.Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel speaks during a press conference at the ministry of foreign affairs in Berlin, June 14, 2017.

Germany and Austria voiced sharp criticism Thursday of the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas.

The United States Senate voted Wednesday to slap new sanctions on key sectors of Russia's economy and individuals over its interference in the 2016 U.S. election campaign and its aggression in Syria and Ukraine. The measures were attached to a bill targeting Iran.

In a joint statement, Austria's Chancellor Christian Kern and Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said it was important for Europe and the United States to form a united front on the issue of Ukraine, where Russian-based separatists have been fighting government forces since 2014.

"However, we can't accept the threat of illegal and extraterritorial sanctions against European companies," the two officials said, citing a section of the bill that calls for the United States to continue to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would pump Russian gas to Germany beneath the Baltic Sea.

Half of the cost of the new pipeline is being paid for by Russian gas giant Gazprom, while the other half is being shouldered by a group including Anglo-Dutch group Royal Dutch Shell, French provider Engie, OMV of Austria and Germany's Uniper and Wintershall.

Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don't pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.

Gabriel and Kern accuse the U.S. of trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. They said the possibility of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project "introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations," they said.

In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe.

"Europe's energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America," Kern and Gabriel said.

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