President Trump said a number of things at his press conference Monday alongside Russian leader Vladimir Putin that few thought a U.S. commander in chief would ever say. Trump refused to affirm the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 election. He called the primary probe into that electoral interference, headed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a “disaster for our country.”
Lost amid Trump's many stunning compliments for his Russian counterpart in Helsinki was his refusal to vigorously defend a key geopolitical power play undertaken by his own administration: trying to wean Europe off Russian natural gas.
As part of his “energy dominance” agenda, Trump is seeking to increase U.S. oil and gas production to make the United States a net energy exporter. His administration is eyeing Europe, among other regions, as a potential market for American liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
Part of the impetus for selling fuel to Europe, a policy shared by both the Obama and Trump administrations, is to stifle the influence of Russia in the region. Historically, Russia has been a major source of energy for Europe and, at times, Putin has used the threat of cutting off supplies to impose his will.
For years, the United States and some Eastern European countries criticized officials in Berlin for pursuing the construction of a new natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Both Republican senators and Trump's own State Department have threatened U.S. sanctions targeting the project, called Nord Stream 2.
When standing alongside Putin at the press conference, however, Trump was surprisingly muted when it came to the pipeline.
“I think that we will be completing when you talk about the pipeline. I'm not sure, necessarily, that it's in the best interests of Germany or not, but that was a decision that they made,” Trump said. “So we're going to be selling LNG, and we'll have to be competing with the pipeline and I think will compete successfully, although there is a little advantage locationally.”
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