The Trump administration also said the US will impose travel bans on employees of the Chinese technology giant Huawei and other Chinese companies the US believes is assisting governments in cracking down on human rights.
The Trump administration has hardened its efforts to prevent the completion of new German-Russian and Turkish-Russian natural gas pipelines by ending sanctions exemptions for companies involved in the projects and warning they'll be subject to US penalties unless they halt their work.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced the administration is ending grandfather clauses that had spared firms previously involved in the pipelines' construction from sanctions authorised by the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), a 2017 law aimed at punishing Russia, in particular, for interference in US elections and other matters.
The move opens the door for US economic and financial penalties to be imposed on any European and other foreign company over the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream projects, including those that had been working on the pipelines before the passage of CAATSA and had been exempted from the penalties.
US pushes Europe to abandon pipelines
The Trump administration has lobbied Europe, particularly Germany, to abandon the pipelines, which it believes will increase the continent’s dependence on Russian energy.
Wednesday’s step comes as congressional legislation that would mandate the imposition of sanctions that had been authorised by CAATSA is advancing.
The US has been an outspoken opponent of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport natural gas about 1,200 km (750 miles) under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. Along with eastern European countries that also oppose the project, the US government argues that it will make Europe dangerously dependent on Russia.
Already the threat of US sanctions has led one company that had not been covered by the grandfather clause to suspend its work on the pipeline.
Late last year, the Swiss firm Allseas, which operated ships laying sections of the undersea pipeline, said it was halting work in anticipation of sanctions.
Nord Stream 2 is owned by Russia’s Gazprom, with investment from several European companies. The German government has said it regrets the sanctions threat and considers them interference in the country’s domestic affairs. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear last week that Germany isn’t considering retaliation against the sanctions.
Russia has said it is, however, considering retaliatory measures. Pompeo spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday, and President Donald Trump spoke to Turkey's president on Tuesday, but there was no indication that the pipelines had been discussed.
With TurkStream, Russian gas passes through the Black Sea to Turkey. Together, the two 930-km (578-mile) TurkStream lines under the Black Sea, along with the Russian and Turkish onshore pipes, have the capacity to carry 31.5 billion cubic meters (1.1 trillion cubic feet) of natural gas annually.
US to hit Huawei employees with visa bans
Mike Pompeo also said the US will impose travel bans on employees of the Chinese technology giant Huawei and other Chinese companies the US determines are assisting governments in cracking down on human rights, including in China's western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
Pompeo made the announcement a day after the British government said it would ban Huawei from its 5G networks over concerns that sensitive data could be compromised by China and the Chinese Communist Party.
Pompeo said Huawei employees found to be providing “material support to regimes engaging in human rights violations and abuses globally" would be hit with sanctions.
“Companies impacted by today’s action include Huawei, an arm of the CCP’s surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China,” he said. "Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses.
“Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: If they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers,” Pompeo said in a statement.
It is not clear how many employees would be affected. Huawei says on its website that it has more than 194,000 employees in more than 170 countries and regions.
The US has led a worldwide campaign to convince foreign governments, particularly those in allied nations, to bar Huawei from their advanced telecommunications networks, arguing that allowing them into those systems would lead to privacy violations of their citizens.
The US has also threatened NATO and other allies with curtailments or suspensions in intelligence sharing and cooperation should they allow Huawei components or technology in their high-speed networks.
READ MORE: UK bans China's Huawei from 5G network