German business group enraged by Trump attacks on Nord Stream pipeline

BERLIN (Reuters) - German companies active in eastern European business on Thursday dismissed U.S. President Donald Trump’s criticism of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline plan, a day after he called Berlin “a captive to Russia.”

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The U.S. State Department overnight repeated a warning to Western firms involved in the deal for the pipeline from Russia under the Baltic Sea, saying the project could divide Europe and they were at risk of sanctions.

“Threats of U.S. sanctions against European companies invested in Nord Stream 2 encroach on European energy policy,” the chairman of the German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations (Ostausschuss), Wolfgang Buechele, told Reuters.

He said that Trump’s remarks and sanctions against Russia that also target foreign companies there were “an assault on business relations between German and European countries and Russia”.

The $11-billion project, led by Gazprom GAZP.MM, aims to double capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline from next year, bypassing traditional routes through Ukraine.

Germany's Uniper UN01.DE and Wintershall BASFn.DE are among western partners, that also include Anglo-Dutch Shell RDSa.L, France's Engie ENGIE.PA and Austria's OMV OMVV.VIE.

The German committee groups 350 members active in 29 countries in eastern Europe accounting for about a fifth of Germany’s total foreign trade, which is more sizeable than bilateral trades Germany conducts with the U.S. and China individually.

Buechele said it was not up to Washington to identify which countries German companies were allowed to trade with.

The energy partnership with Russia had stretched over decades with mutual benefits, and gas imports from Russia were a competitively priced and reliable energy source for private consumers and industry, he said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel insists the project is a private commercial venture.

Buechele also said that to claim Russia would be able to control gas markets was “factually wrong and politically absurd.”

A spokesman for Uniper declined comment on the latest exchanges but offered a wider statement by chief executive Klaus Schaefer saying that he wished for a de-escalation of the sanctions spiral.

“We are holding on to our contractual obligations regarding Nord Stream 2, of whose value for Germany and Europe we are convinced, given the background of declining gas production in Europe,” Schaefer said.

“This is a project for coming decades and thus partially independent of short-term developments.”

Reporting by Gernot Heller, additional reporting by Tom Kaeckenhoff, writing by Vera Eckert, editing by William Maclean