Trump is treating foreign policy like the Wild West, and Mike Pompeo is his bounty killer. Whenever the Europeans see him coming, they pray they’ll be spared. On cue, after Pence’s visit to Germany on Friday, the US passed sanctions against the companies involved in Nord Stream 2, the $11 billion gas pipeline from Russia that will pass under the Baltic Sea and bypass the Visegrad countries (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary), the Baltic States and Ukraine.
The European Union protested loudly this time, saying these are “EU companies conducting legitimate business.” Germany called it “a severe intervention in German and European internal affairs.” Last Wednesday, in response to a question about the sanctions against the Nord Stream 2, Angela Merkel said before the Bundestag: “We are against extraterritorial sanctions … And this is not a new position after yesterday’s decision, this has also been the case with sanctions on Iran, we faced the same problem.” Her tone was so harsh that Bild wrote that this was nothing short of “a declaration of war against Trump.”
The problem is that Trumpian America is mocking all the established rules. Does breaking off the nuclear agreement with Iran and imposing sanctions on everyone have any justification beyond accommodating the wishes of Israel and the Saudis, the biggest customers of the American arms industry? It is a question of marketing, not of principles. And now, precisely because he has been impeached, Donald Trump is pulling the trigger on new sanctions to show he is holding Putin at bay, and is touting his “Space Force” in the belligerent tones of a space cowboy.
It’s clear that Europe is now struggling in the midst of a natural gas war, fought across the Trump-Putin-Erdogan triangle. It is an economic war, but one with military implications in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya. In the end, this could prove to be of strategic importance for the future of the continent.
The US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 arrived just as Moscow had reached an agreement with Kiev to provide gas supplies to Ukraine and the EU, certainly a positive step for the easing of tensions in Eastern Europe.
That, however, was not good news for the US: they want to control the energy routes, and above all to sell their “shale gas” (extracted from clays)—which costs more than gas obtained through other means—to the Europeans, with the excuse of lessening European dependence on Moscow.
Trump wants to disengage from Europe and the Middle East, but he doesn’t want to give up the energy and arms markets, and he wants to keep managing the trade flows by means of tariffs and sanctions, steering them in an anti-Russian and anti-Chinese direction. Brexit is also working for him in this regard, weakening the European Union, a major competitor.
We will have to see whether the United States shows the same determination to impose sanctions on Turkey for its claims on the offshore gas belonging to Greek Cyprus, which affect the interests of Italy, France, Greece and Israel. Italian and French warships are already in the area. However, we might be at the mercy of Putin in the end, as he is the only one able to deal with Erdogan, Syria, Libya and with the gas issue, since the project of the Turkish Stream is now in development—a replacement for the South Stream, an Italian project run by Saipem, cancelled in 2014 because of the sanctions against Moscow on account of Ukraine.
Libya is in the foreground of this conflict, since the government in Tripoli, led by “our guy,” Al-Sarraj, signed an agreement with Erdogan for military protection in exchange for authorizing Turkey to prospect for offshore gas in the exclusive area belonging to Greek Cyprus, where Italian companies such as Eni, the French Total, and US companies are all active. It’s also an area where Israel has strong interests, having concluded agreements with Greece and Cyprus for allowing the passage of an underwater gas pipeline to transfer Israeli and Egyptian energy resources to Europe. According to all logic, Washington should protect these projects—but there is very little logic left in what the US is doing.
Erdogan extracted this agreement from al-Sarraj at gunpoint: without the support of the Turks, Tripoli could well succumb to General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive, supported by Russian mercenaries, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is precisely because of this “snub” by al-Sarraj that Italy is repositioning itself in Libya, and this was the real topic of the latest phone call between Conte and Erdogan.
The events are confirming what we’ve written about on several occasions in il manifesto. It’s easy for Erdogan to keep the Europeans in check on every front: from Syrian refugees to ISIS foreign fighters, from Libya to gas. And he’s showing a willingness to do the same with the United States, which is threatening sanctions for his purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-missile system: in retaliation, the Turkish leader could close the crucial US air force and nuclear base at Incirlik. He already did so temporarily after the failed coup d’état of July 15, 2016, when the Europeans and Americans were both expecting him to be removed from power.
We are paying the price for a long series of errors, such as letting Erdogan believe that the West would take out Assad in Syria with the support of the “moderate” rebels. And we are also paying for the latest crime: the American green light to the massacre of the Syrian Kurds in Rojava, allies in the fight against ISIS and Jihadist terrorism. It is not surprising that al-Sarraj has turned to Turkey, since his European friends, Italy included, have been supporting him more in words than in deeds, even though the government in Tripoli is the one officially recognized by the UN.
Principles and the notion of international legality have now gone up in smoke, with the result that the fate of the Mediterranean will be decided between Erdogan, Putin and Trump the space cowboy, however it might suit them best.
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