by BOJAN PANCEVSKI
Angela Merkel and her advisers, before a visit to the White House last spring, agreed on a priority: Avoid talk of Nord Stream 2. The German-Russian pipeline project had been a bone of contention between Berlin and Washington, which fears it will make Europe’s largest economy excessively reliant on Russian energy.
When the German chancellor took her seat at the Oval Office table, though, President Trump left her nowhere to hide. “Angela,” he said, according to people in the room, “you got to stop buying gas from Putin.”
A year later, work continues on the gas link under the Baltic Sea financed by several Western firms and PAO Gazprom , the Russian state-controlled energy company.
The dispute is coming to a head, in a graphic example of how Russia’s estrangement from the West, far from bringing its members closer, is driving a wedge between the closest of allies.
Many European capitals share Washington’s concerns. Poland opposes the project because of concerns it would make the country more vulnerable to Russia’s political pressure. Warsaw politicians including the liberal former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski have compared the pipeline to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union to dismember Poland.
John E. Smith, until last year director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the most senior U.S. official dealing with sanctions, said the pipeline faced a Congress wanting to confront what some perceived as Mr. Trump’s leniency on Russia and the president’s desire to show he was tough on Mr. Putin.
“Virtually everyone in the U.S. government believes that this deal strengthens Russia at a time when the EU should not be strengthening Russia,” said Mr. Smith, now partner at law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP.
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