EU threatens swift response to US Russia sanctions

European Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker speaks during a debate on the conclusions of the European Council meeting on October 20-21 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on October 26, 2016. / AFP / FREDERICK FLORIN (Photo credit should read FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union said on Wednesday it would respond “within days” to a vote by the US House of Representatives to impose tough new sanctions on Russia that may affect energy flows to Europe.

“The US bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU’s energy security interests,” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement following talks by top bloc officials on the matter in Brussels.

“This is why the commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days,” he added, repeating a threat made in May following talks with US President Donald Trump.

The US sanctions package, which also targets North Korea and Iran, was approved overwhelmingly in the House on Tuesday and now heads for expected passage by the Senate.

The legislation is aimed at punishing the Kremlin for allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In an apparent concession, the House modified a provision so the bill only targets pipelines originating in Russia, sparing those that merely pass through, such as the Caspian pipeline that carries oil from Kazakhstan to Europe.

But Brussels is worried that the fresh wave of measures could end up penalising European firms that contribute to the development of Russia’s energy sector.

While the bill “demonstrates that a number of these concerns are being taken into account”, it nevertheless foresees “sanctions on any company (including European) which contributes to the development, maintenance, modernisation or repair of energy export pipelines” of Russia, the EU said in a statement.

“Depending on its implementation, this could affect infrastructure transporting energy resources to Europe,” including those transiting through Ukraine, it said.

The EU also raised concerns over the law’s impact on a major natural gas project out of the Baltic states.

Brussels further decried the sanctions bill as a unilateral action by Washington that disrupted previous close cooperation on measures against Russia.

To date, the sanctions have been coordinated on both sides of the Atlantic to maintain a united front.

The EU and US imposed the sanctions in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 as the Ukraine crisis deepened after the ouster of a pro-Moscow government.

In addition to the Crimea measures, the EU imposed damaging economic sanctions against Russia after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine in July 2014, blamed by the EU on the rebels.

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EUJean-Claude JunckerRussia
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