Trump to EU: Buy nat-gas from US rather than be hostages to Russia

If Russia interfered with the election in order to get a friendlier administration in Washington DC, their investment does not seem to be paying off. For years, Moscow has used its near-monopoly on natural gas as an economic stick to threaten eastern European nations into compliance with Russia’s policies. Speaking in Warsaw today, Donald Trump urged nations in Europe to end their dependence on Russian energy and instead buy American:

“Let me be clear about one crucial point. The United States will never use energy to coerce your nations, and we cannot allow others to do so,” Trump said at a press conference flanked by European leaders. “You don’t want to have a monopoly or a monopolistic situation.”

Trump did not name Russia directly, but his message was clear to the assembled leaders.

CNBC throws some cold water on the idea, although Poland did recently get its first shipment of LNG:

LNG trade between the United States and Three Seas nations would help Trump in his bid to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and stands to improve energy security among the European countries by giving them an alternative to Russian gas.

But the odds of U.S. LNG significantly displacing Russian natural gas shipped by pipeline are slim. Piped gas sells at a large discount to LNG, which must be cooled to liquid form, shipped overseas and turned back into its gaseous form.

Russia has the ability to cut prices and adjust contract terms to maintain its dominant position in the European gas market, said Ken Culotta, a partner in global law firm King & Spalding’s energy practice. European countries are likely to continue sourcing most of their gas from the lowest cost supplier, he added.

True, but until now they haven’t needed to do so. The point Trump makes isn’t that Europe will save money through US LNG supplies by themselves, but that they will cease being hostages to take-it-or-leave-it deals from Moscow. Russia already faces economic problems due to the fall in the price of petroleum on the world market, created in large part by aggressive American production and the inability of OPEC to coordinate a response to it. Trump wants to add competitive pressure on natural gas and hasten those economic problems for the Putin regime.

That’s not the only rebuke Trump offered to Vladimir Putin in Warsaw. He spoke more directly about Russia’s expansionism and the need to stand together to oppose it:

“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran, and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself,” Trump said in Warsaw.

Both statements are surprisingly explicit postures ahead of a planned bilateral side meeting between Trump and Putin at the G-20 summit. Roll Call’s John Bennett notices the chance of tone and its proximity to the first meeting between the two leaders. Will Trump be tempted into a more people-pleasing stance when the two meet, however?

President Donald Trump on Thursday set the tone for his coming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, using his most direct rhetoric yet toward Moscow when he urged the Kremlin to “cease its destabilizing activities.”

When Trump and Putin hold a formal meeting during a G-20 summit in Germany on Friday, it will be one of the most-anticipated meetings between American and Russian leaders in some time. The U.S. president used a speech to the Polish people in Warsaw to set the tone, making clear he wants Putin to alter course while stating clearly his commitment to NATO’s mutual defense pact, established in large part to deter Soviet and later Russian aggression. …

Trump’s tougher-on-Russia remarks came in front of a crowd composed of officials from and supporters of the conservative ruling party. But since Trump often alters his stances — and seems influenced by his audience — there is a chance he would be less critical during his meeting with Putin.

That could be true. We have seen a tendency for Trump to offer sympathetic remarks to whomever last spoke with him, only to revert back when questioned about it. Unfortunately for Putin, the meeting will take place in the context of a larger G-20 community that has grown very concerned about his military and political adventurism, with Trump facing political pressure from the Right and Left at home to take a tougher line on Russia. Even if Trump emphasizes the pleasantries after the meeting, the bigger problem is that Russian and US interests are still largely diametrically opposed to one another — on top of which Russia just conducted a ham-handed and significant operation to meddle in our domestic politics. Trump has little room to offer any concessions even if inclined to do so, and right now it appears he doesn’t have that inclination anyway. Perhaps we may finally see the development of a much more realistic Russia policy out of the White House from this trip.