- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Proposed U.S. legislation to expand sanctions against Russia has sparked an angry reaction in Europe, where EU officials warned Wednesday the moves could undermine the sensitive energy security relationship between Moscow and Western Europe.

The sanctions bill, seen in part as a bipartisan congressional rebuke of President Trump’s push for better ties with Russia, was passed overwhelmingly by the House on Tuesday. The measure, which passed on a 419-3 vote, would require the president to obtain explicit permission from lawmakers before easing any existing Russia sanctions.

But it has sparked deep concern in Western Europe, with officials warning they are prepared to act quickly to counter the proposed legislation. The fear, according to EU leaders, is that new U.S. sanctions would hurt European companies working with Moscow’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to finance a major natural gas pipeline linking Germany to Russia.

The proposed sanctions specifically target the controversial “Nord Stream 2” project to deliver Russian gas through a pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea to energy-dependent EU nations.

“The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests,” EU Chief Executive Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement Wednesday.

” ‘America First’ cannot mean that Europe’s interests come last,” Mr. Juncker said in a comment that appeared to be a jab at Mr. Trump’s central foreign policy slogan despite the reality that the president himself is perceived to be pushing against — not for — the new Russia sanctions.

Analysts say the sanctions bill passed by the U.S. House on Tuesday actually amounts to an effort by the Republican-controlled Congress to block Mr. Trump from moving too quickly toward easing existing sanctions against Russia — something Democrats claim he’s eager to do to warm relations with Moscow.

While that U.S. political dynamic hung in the backdrop Wednesday, German and French officials joined with their EU colleagues in criticizing the proposed sanctions legislation.

The European uneasiness underscores the overall sensitivity of the Russia sanctions issue for Western Europe three years after Russian military incursions into Ukraine.

Following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the Obama administration and the EU imposed economic sanctions that block certain Russian individuals and state-controlled companies from financial transactions in American and Western European banking systems.

But the moves were more politically and economically difficult for EU countries, many of which have far more extensive trade and energy relationships with Moscow.

It so far remains to be seen how the Trump administration will navigate the issue. In another shot at the EU, Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal this week he was eyeing a major trade deal with post-Brexit Britain, while denouncing the EU trade policies.

“I have a good relationship with the EU people and all,” the president said. “But they are very, very protectionist.”

It wasn’t clear Wednesday when the proposed sanctions legislation, which American lawmakers say is designed to punish Moscow for meddling in last year’s U.S. election, may reach the White House for Mr. Trump to veto or sign.

The legislation includes language to also expand U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker raised objections Wednesday about the last-minute inclusion of North Korea in the bill passed by the House.

The Senate months ago passed a version of the sanctions legislation that had only addressed Russia and Iran. Mr. Corker expressed frustration that final passage by the Senate of the House-tweaked version of the bill could be delayed because it included the North Korea language.

The Tennessee Republican told reporters that he preferred to keep the North Korea issue separate. But he also insisted the situation is “not going to become a calamity,” and asserted that House and Senate Republicans will come up with a solution.

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