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President Trump Criticizes Germany For Pipeline Deal With Russia

Jul 11, 2018
Originally published on July 11, 2018 6:51 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And for more on that Russian pipeline that President Trump was talking about, we turn now to NPR's Martin Kaste in Berlin. Hey there, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

CHANG: So can you tell us, what is this pipeline, and why is President Trump bringing it up now?

KASTE: Well, it seems what he's referring to is something called the Nord Stream II. It's actually an expansion of an underwater pipeline system that already exists through the Baltic. It's on the seafloor or actually underground - under the sea. And it should be ready in about a year or so. They've started construction, but it's a really controversial pipeline project here in Europe. It's opposed by Poland. Ukraine is very worried that with the expansion of this Baltic route, the pipelines going through Ukraine to Europe will become less important. And so, you know, it's not exactly an uncontroversial project to begin with. Here in Germany, it's been controversial. But Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported it, in part, because Germany is really looking for new sources of energy. That's because, in part, it has committed itself - because of global warming - to reduce its use of coal. And it also intends to phase out its nuclear power plants in a few years. So this replacement energy has to come from somewhere.

CHANG: Now, President Trump said Germany is, quote, "totally controlled by Russia because it gets," in his words, "60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia." Is that true?

KASTE: Not quite. That percentage - those figures are actually Russia's share of the gas that Germany imports to produce electricity. But the gas is just a portion of Germany's energy diet - maybe less than 20 percent. Germany has a lot of renewable energy. You see windmills all over the place when you take the train here. They also burn coal still, as I said before. But it is true that Germany's reliance on Russian gas is increasing, and actually this has been a worry for the U.S. - a strategic worry - for a long time. This actually dates back to the Soviet era with some of the pipelines from that time. I talked about this to Jan Techau. He's a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund. He was in Brussels today following the NATO meeting, and, you know, he is one of the people here in Germany who actually believes that there is a strategic risk for Germany when it depends more on Russian gas. But he says when President Trump says stuff like what he's saying today, he's going way overboard.

JAN TECHAU: This is just, you know, a ludicrous statement. He doesn't seem to kind of factor in that Germany is the European leading power on the sanctions against Russia based on the Crimea incident. And, you know, if you just for one second listen to what Angela Merkel says about Russia, then you know full well that that, of course, is nonsense.

CHANG: OK. That is one German analyst, but how have other Germans been reacting to Trump's remarks today?

KASTE: Well, I got the sense today that the Germans were kind of bristling over this. You know, some of the talk you hear is that maybe Trump is trying to push business for U.S. gas producers. Obviously the U.S. gas industry has grown quite a bit. So far, it just focused mainly on the Asian market, Latin America. Conceivably, though, it could export to Europe with liquefied natural gas. But the politicians here - you know, they have been getting used to sort of these sweeping comments from our president.

CHANG: I'm sure.

KASTE: And usually they try to play those comments down, but I got the sense that today was a little different. And you got sort of more of a sarcastic tone from the chancellor than you usually hear from her. When she was talking to the media in Brussels, she kind of made a point - as we heard earlier - of saying that, you know, she'd grown up in East Germany under Soviet domination. And she's just glad that - thanks, in part, to NATO - Germany is now a free and united country that's able to set its own independent political course.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Martin Kaste in Berlin. Thanks, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT'S "PIPELINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.