‘Peculiar move’: Merkel lashes out at new US anti-Russia sanctions

‘Peculiar move’: Merkel lashes out at new US anti-Russia sanctions
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has joined the chorus of criticism over a new US anti-Russia sanctions bill that would involve fines on EU companies contributing to joint pipeline projects, saying Washington has nothing to do with Europe’s energy policy.

The US Senate on Wednesday moved to expand the package of sanctions targeting Russian industries. The proposed bill, which turns the existing sanctions into law, also adds new restrictions, most notably aimed at oil and gas sectors, the privatization of state-owned assets and the threat of restrictions on Russian finances.

On Friday, Merkel joined Austria and France in criticizing the move, and expressed her disapproval with the new package of sanctions specifically targeting EU-Russia energy projects, such as Nord Stream 2, a Gazprom-run flagship pipeline being built to deliver Russian gas to European customers.

“The US Senate’s decision raises exactly the same questions for her as it did for [Austrian Chancellor Christian] Kern and [German Foreign Minister Sigmar] Gabriel. It is, putting it mildly, a peculiar move by the US Senate,” the chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters.

He stressed it was “strange” that European companies would be affected by the sanctions relating to the alleged Russian interference in the US elections.

“That must not happen,” the spokesperson said. “We generally reject sanctions with extra-territorial effects, meaning an impact on third countries,” he added.

The new anti-Russian sanctions are outlined in an amendment to a bill initially imposing sanctions against Iran. It was approved by the US Senate on Thursday by a majority of 98 to 2, but still requires approval by the House of Representatives and the signature of the US president.

Once the sanctions package becomes law, it will be extremely hard to lift, significantly limiting space for US-Russian reconciliation.

It also imposes penalties on companies cooperating with Russian oil and gas companies, possibly affecting BASF, Shell, Engie, OMV, Wintershall and Uniper taking part in the Nord Stream 2 project.

On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern lambasted the bill, saying in a joint statement: “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not the United States of America!” 

“Sanctions as a political instrument should not be linked to economic interests,” the statement said. It added that “threatening German, Austrian and other European enterprises, which take part in the gas supply projects such as the Nord Stream II together with Russia or finance them, with penalties on the US market would add an absolutely new and highly negative aspect in relations between the US and Europe.”

The Austria-Germany statement noted the US bill is deceptive, as Washington wants to force Russian energy supply companies out of the European market. “The actual goal [of such sanctions] is to provide jobs for the US gas and oil industry,” the statement said.

Other statements by German officials suggest the Senate’s bill is being treated seriously in Berlin. “I regret that the joint approach of Europe and the United States on Russia and sanctions has been undermined and abandoned in this way,” Brigitte Zypries, the economy minister, told Reuters.

In Paris, the sanctions bill provoked similar concerns. Alexandre Giorgini, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said the US should coordinate such moves with its G7 partners, taking into account their defense and economy interests.

“It is important for possible new measures to be coordinated between international partners to ensure their impact internationally and to maintain unity among partners on the sanctions,” a spokeswoman for the European Commission told Reuters, commenting on the same issue.

European companies are now studying the legal framework under which the US would be able to levy sanctions on them, according to the Financial Times. “This is about creating a threat,” said an executive at a company affected by the sanctions. “They have opened their toolbox again.”

US-led coalition’s white phosphorus use in Mosul ‘not within int’l legal framework’ – rights groups

US-led coalition’s white phosphorus use in Mosul ‘not within int’l legal framework’ – rights groups
The use of white phosphorus by the US-led coalition in Mosul is “not within the international legal framework,” the UN coordinator for rights group Salam for Democracy and Human Rights told RT, adding that Baghdad should launch an independent investigation.

“There’s no area [in Mosul] with a large space… the houses are built against each other so it’s really intense. So using such a weapon in this area is not within the international legal framework,” Mohammed Serkal told RT.

“It is banned… in areas like this… especially now with the heat in Iraq… with this it could burn easy and that could have consequences, not just now but on the future as well,” he said.

White phosphorus burns when it comes into contact with oxygen, producing high-temperature heat and characteristic white smoke.

Serkal also said there “seems to be a blackout on Mosul” in the media, because “we don’t have many NGOs in Mosul who can verify information, who can report on information on the airstrikes” on the city, and because the city is inaccessible.

Serkal is calling on the Iraqi government to investigate any criminal behavior “independently and transparently,” without the US being involved.

READ MORE: ‘Staggering loss of civilian life’ during US-backed siege of Raqqa – UN

The US-led coalition has admitted to using munitions loaded with white phosphorus, with a New Zealand general disclosing it earlier this week. The explanation was that the substance has been used for creating smokescreens to aid fleeing civilians.

It comes after an increasing number of claims pointed to the use of such munitions in Mosul and Raqqa, Syria in previous weeks. The cities are the two strongholds of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also criticized the coalition for deploying the munitions by releasing a statement entitled “Iraq/Syria: Danger from US white phosphorus” on Wednesday.

‘What’s it hitting on the ground?’

The Americans saying that they’re only using artillery-delivered white phosphorus as a smoke screen, but the group warned against employing it “to attack personnel on the ground or material objects,” Mary Wareham, the advocacy director of HRW’s arms division, told RT.

“We see enough risk in the use [of white phosphorus] and see horror stories from past use in previous conflicts. We want the US to be extremely careful and sparing when it uses white phosphorus – if it uses it at all,” she said.

READ MORE: What we see in Raqqa is no attempt to protect civilians – Vanessa Beeley

When asked if she believed that the use of white phosphorus could endanger peaceful Syrians and Iraqis, Wareham’s reply was: “Yes. There are hundreds of thousands of civilians still on the ground in Mosul and in Raqqa. It’s a very complex situation.”

“Our problem is that there are no clear rules in terms of using white phosphorus as a weapon. It’s not covered by international law. It’s not primarily designed as an incendiary weapon. But its incidental effects can cause terrible injuries – burns, smoke inhalation,” she said.

Even after being deployed in the air, white phosphorus keeps burning when reaching the ground and HRW wants to know “what’s it hitting on the ground?” and if “adequate provisions [are] being taken to ensure that civilians aren’t falling victims to white phosphorus,” Warren said.

She also stressed that Human Rights Watch has not yet identified any victims of white phosphorous in Mosul and Raqqa, adding that, according to its information, the US-led coalition has not used the controversial munition in the last couple of days.

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