Grenell: Trump's get-tough policies on German, Russia energy vindicated amid Ukraine war

Following Russia's invasion, Berlin now reluctantly adopting policies it once scorned when Trump administration pushed them

Updated: April 3, 2022 - 11:14pm

The Trump administration's stern demands of Germany, which prompted outcry from Europe to be Washington, have been vindicated following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, former U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell says.

"President Trump and I made clear to the government of Germany and to the German people that relying on Russian energy was a dangerous path," said Grenell, who spoke to Just the News and served as ambassador in Berlin from 2018 to 2020. "We were clear that Germany was feeding the beast of Russia while not paying their NATO obligations."

"Trump was right," Grenell continued. "And the new chancellor of Germany has reversed the policy to now support what President Trump was asking."

He spoke Friday, three days after the airing of a Just the News interview with Trump in which he said about his efforts to get member nations to pay up or risk losing the support from the alliance: "I was the best thing that ever happened to NATO."

Trump and Grenell pushed Berlin to wean itself off Russian energy and purchase U.S. liquified natural gas (LNG) as a partial alternative.

As part of that effort, the Trump administration vocally opposed Nord Stream 2, a massive pipeline designed to double the flow of gas from Russia to Germany and imposed sanctions on the project.

Trump, Grenell, and other critics argued the pipeline, whose construction the German government long supported, would make Europe more reliant on Russian gas.

"While in Germany, I made clear that Nord Stream 2 was a pipeline of leverage, Grenell said. "Many German citizens agreed with that U.S. position, despite the government of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel ignoring their concerns."

In 2019, German Ambassador to the U.S. Emily Haber wrote letters to several members of Congress urging them not to impose additional energy sanctions on Russia and to allow Nord Stream 2 to be completed.

The lobbying effort by Haber included an apparent threat that certain sanctions targeting Russia could "impair" U.S. goals of Germany accepting LNG imports and developing LNG terminals to grow its import capacity.

In this week's JTN interview, Trump also said he made the public aware of Nord Stream 2 and took punitive steps to prevent Russia from reaping its benefits.

"I terminated it. They weren't going to have it," Trump said before criticizing President Biden's approach to the pipeline, saying, "He then opened it."

Last year, Biden waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and reached a deal with Germany to greenlight the pipeline without the imposition of further sanctions. His administration was also slow to boost LNG exports because of concerns about the impact on climate change.

Beyond energy, Trump and Grenell pressured Germany — and other NATO allies — to meet the alliance's obligation of member countries to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense — an obligation that Berlin has spurned for years.

"And you know who didn't pay up? Germany didn't pay up," Trump said. "They take advantage of us. They really do. It's a shame."

Days after Russia's invasion in late February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to boost military spending with a $112 billion commitment to Germany's armed forces and to spend more than 2% of its GDP on defense.

Meanwhile, Berlin has taken unprecedented steps in recent weeks to begin weaning itself off Russian energy, including halting approval of Nord Stream 2. Before the Russia-Ukraine war, Germany received some 55% of its gas, 50% of its coal, and 35% of its oil from Russia.

"In Germany it wasn't quite imaginable that something like this would happen," said American Enterprise Institute senior fellow Dalibor Rohac, referring to Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. "It came as a shock, a wake-up call to the German political class. The question is: Will these changes be sustained?"

Russia's aggression against Ukraine has prompted Washington to impose sanctions on the company behind Nord Stream 2 and increase natural gas exports to Germany and other European countries.

Despite adopting these changes now, many Germany politicians castigated Trump and Grenell for making such demands at the time. Several U.S. media outlets and former officials from the Obama administration similarly blasted the Trump administration for taking a more blunt and abrasive approach to Germany and Europe than was typical.

"What the media in the United States completely missed was that the European Parliament agreed with us," said Grenell. "Political elites in Washington, D.C. think that Berlin and Paris are the complete E.U. [European Union]. And while they may be the biggest countries, they are at odds with many European members, especially when it came to Russia."

Germany's reluctance to change and embrace the policies pushed by the Trump administration helped lead to the Russia-Ukraine war, according to some experts.

"Merkel carried [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's water in the E.U.," said Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "Her successor only decided to suspend her pro-Putin policies after Putin invaded Ukraine. Scholtz went into this kicking and screaming and didn't want to reverse German policy."

Weinthal noted that Germany had hindered allies trying to send aid to Ukraine in the months leading up to Russia's invasion, as Russia was deploying forces to the Ukrainian border.

In January, for example, Germany blocked NATO ally Estonia from giving military support to Ukraine, refusing to issue permits for German-origin weapons to be exported to Kyiv. One month earlier, Ukrainian officials blasted Germany for vetoing Ukraine's purchase of anti-sniper systems via the NATO Support and Procurement Agency.

"Germany aided Putin's buildup to war and became a junior HR department for his regime," said Weinthal. "Putin's invasion has finally brought to the fore why Germany is the West's worst ally."

A State Department spokesperson told Just the News that the U.S. and Germany "enjoy a close relationship and alliance" based on shared interests and values.

"We have never been more united with our allies and partners on our support for Ukraine and response to the Russian Federation's unprovoked war," the spokesperson said.

In late February, Germany reversed its previous policy of not exporting lethal aid to Ukraine by sending weapons to Kyiv to repel the Russian invasion. Berlin is also reportedly preparing to provide the Ukrainians with additional weaponry in the coming days.

However, several German companies continue to operate in Russia, and Berlin has warned it won't support a full embargo of Russian energy, arguing such a move would be economically devastating.

But even without supporting a full embargo, Germany is still facing a possible recession and severe inflation as Russia's war in Ukraine continues to bring turmoil to global energy markets.

According to German officials, Germany has itself to blame for becoming overly dependent on Russian energy.

"Actually, we as Europeans have known since 2014 at the latest ... that we must become completely independent of Russian fossil fuel imports, and a strategy was put in place to diversify our energy imports," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Tuesday at the Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue. "However, we did not tackle this, and this is now taking its revenge in the most brutal way."

"We knew, or we could have known, that it was not only stupid to place all our security policy cards on just one country, but that it also wasn't a smart idea to put them on that particular country," added Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck. "We have to acknowledge that we acted wrongly in the past."

Berlin appears to be changing some deeply entrenched policies that long frustrated Washington, but experts doubt whether these policy reversals will stick.

"My fear is that as this conflict drags on and isn't resolved with a clear outcome one way or the other, the natural tendency will be for the system to revert back to the status quo," said Rohac. "The German government isn't immune to that, and Chancellor Scholz was resistant to imposing energy sanctions and embargoing energy from Russia."