Power Struggles Behind the Front

The transatlantic power struggle for the dominating position in Eastern and Southeastern Europe escalates – in regards to military buildup, energy supply and Ukraine’s reconstruction.

WASHINGTON/WARSAW/BERLIN (Own report) – The power struggle escalates between Washington and Berlin for the dominating position in Eastern and Southeastern Europe and is impacting the dispute over Ukraine’s reconstruction. Whereas the EU Commission had initially claimed leadership in that country’s reconstruction, Washington is now arguing that Brussels lacks the necessary “political and financial heft” to do so. The United States must therefore assume the leadership. Meanwhile, in Poland the USA is superseding an initiative being promoted by Berlin to create a European air defense system, at the same time, establishing Poland as a hub for the proliferation of US nuclear technology in Eastern and Southeastern Europe – at the expense of the French nuclear industry. The USA is using the Three Seas Initiative to begin to transform Eastern and Southeastern Europe into another market for US liquified gas. This regional project comprises twelve nations between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas and was launched by Poland and others in 2015 at Washington’s suggestion. This initiative runs counter to German interests in the region.

The Three Seas Initiative

The power struggle between Washington and Berlin for a leading position in Eastern and Southeastern Europe has already been going on for years. The USA can particularly rely on Poland and the Baltic countries as loyal cooperation partners and, to a certain degree, also on the Three Seas Initiative, a loose cooperation format comprised of twelve nations between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas.[1] The initiative, elaborated by the US American Atlantic Council in cooperation with a lobbying association of Eastern and Southeastern energy companies in 2013 and 2014, was officially launched in 2015 by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. Its first summit was held in late August 2016, in Dubrovnik, Croatia. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) The participating countries seek to complement the East-West orientated infrastructure and trade flow focused unilaterally on Germany, with new North-South connections between the riparian countries of the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas, to generate new development perspectives, which are at least potentially independent of Germany, the main EU power. At a summit in Riga in June, the heads of states and governments of the Three Seas Initiative invited Ukraine to participate in their projects.[3]

US Liquified Gas for Eastern Europe

For the United States, the Three Seas Initiative is an instrument to bolster its influence I Eastern and Southeastern Europe, because it counters the region’s dominant orientation on the EU’s main power Germany. The United States is also seeking to transform these countries into markets for its liquified gas and thus bind them closer to itself. The port in Klaipėda, Lithuania, receives regular supplies of US liquified gas. In early April, 2022, Lithuania announced that it is the first country in Europa that has completely abandoned Russian gas supplies.[4] Latvia and Estonia are also receiving US liquified gas from Lithuania. Poland, which has its own LNG terminal in Świnoujście, could also import the raw material from Lithuania. In the South, US LNG shipments also arrive at a terminal off the Croatian Krk island, which has been in operation since early 2021 and is to be expanded to 6.1 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas annually from 2.6 billion bcm.[5] Croatia will also expand its pipeline infrastructure, which runs northward from Krk. Hungary and Slovenia could also be supplied via Krk. This has already been done on a punctual basis by LNG- trucks.[6]

US Air Defense Rather than European Sky Shield

The United States is currently particularly intensifying its cooperation with Poland in several fields – and doing so explicitly at the expense of Germany and the EU. An example is the plan to set up a common European anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system, decided October 13, by 15 European states, with Germany playing a key role. The countries supporting the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) include the Baltic countries, along with six other member countries of the Three Seas Initiative. Poland is not participating, because Warsaw – which has been a loyal customer of US combat material as well as a very close cooperation partner of the United States – had long since already set up its own air defense system, which it does not want to integrate into the ESSI. Poland, together with the USA, is developing a Patriot battery-based defense system that they named Wisla.[7] In close cooperation with the United Kingdom, Poland is developing a second system, named Narev.[8] With these, Warsaw has provoked resentment in Berlin and Brussels. Poland’s exclusive cooperation with the USA and Great Britain is blocking the construction of a uniform European anti-aircraft system within the ESSI framework.

Hub for US Nuclear Technology

Currently, the fact that Poland is beginning a close – possibly extensive – nuclear cooperation with the United States, is raising eyebrows. This is due to Warsaw seeking to escape its massive dependence on coal-fueled power plants by constructing nuclear power plants. During a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, in late August, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morowiecki suggested that France’s EDF company may get the contract for constructing Poland’s first power station. “France is a natural partner in questions of nuclear power stations.”[9] However, on the weekend, following talks with US Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm in Washington, Poland’s Minister of State Assets Jacek Sasin, announced that the US Westinghouse will probably build the first, and possibly also the second Polish nuclear power plant. Poland wants, with US assistance, to additionally become a “nuclear pivotal point for all of Eastern Central Europe” and serve as a hub for the expansion of nuclear energy. The country’s growing comprehensive orientation on Washington is now beginning to provoke serious opposition. According to media reports, the EU Commission is considering blocking Poland’s unilateral nuclear cooperation with the USA. Of course, in Warsaw, it is being said that Poland “would be confronted with the limits of its sovereignty.”[10]

“An American of Global Stature”

Additional controversies are now emerging over Ukraine’s reconstruction. Back in May, the EU Commission declared that it, together with Kiev, wants to set up a Ukraine Reconstruction Platform and use it to coordinate all international reconstruction measures.[11] In September, a strategy paper by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), elaborated in cooperation with US government agencies, concluded that a “strong leadership” is essential for this undertaking. The EU Commission, which has neither “the necessary political nor the financial heft” is not in consideration, but rather the G7.“The first coordinator” should be “an American with a global stature.”[12] That, on the other hand, provoked strong disapproval in Brussels, where it was pointed out that Ukraine had been granted the formal status of candidate for EU membership. At the beginning of the week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared in an op ed – quasi as a compromise proposal – that “everyone should tackle” Ukraine’s reconstruction – the EU, G7, and all of our other partners,” the EU would “play an important role.”[13]

“Not One or the Other”

The dispute over who should lead the reconstruction – and thereby determine the Ukraine’s future orientation – persisted on Tuesday at the Reconstruction Conference in Berlin. The conference had been jointly organized by the EU and the G7 – a circumstance that Scholz wanted to be understood as “neither the one nor the other” but everyone doing it together. Now, a structure must be created that would be “a composite of many.”[14] This, of course, does not end the power struggle.


[1] The countries participating in the 3 Seas Initiative (3SI) are Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria, along with Austria. Germany has been granted observer status.

[2] See also Osteuropas geostrategische Drift.

[3] Drei-Meere-Initiative will Ukraine enger an Europa binden. rnd.de 20.06.2022.

[4] Mirela Petkova: Weekly data: Lithuania becomes the first European country to ditch Russian gas. energymonitor.ai 11.04.2022.

[5] Croatia to invest €180 million in LNG infrastructure. euractiv.com 19.08.2022.

[6] Evelin Szőke: First LNG truck from Krk terminal arrives in Hungary. ceenergynews.com 11.08.2022.

[7] Jakub Palowski: Phase II of the Wisła Air and Missile Defence Programme Begins. defence24.com 30.05.2022.

[8] Andrew Chuter, Jaroslaw Adamowski: UK, Poland to pool missile development for their land, naval forces. defensenews.com 05.10.2022.

[9], [10] Polen vor AKW-Bau. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.10.2022.

[11] Thomas Gutschker: Wer hat beim Wiederaufbau der Ukraine das Sagen? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 25.10.2022.

[12] Ronja Ganster, Jacob Kirkegaard, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Bruce Stokes: Designing Ukraine’s Recovery in the Spirit of the Marshall Plan. gmfus.org 07.09.2022.

[13] Ursula von der Leyen, Olaf Scholz: Ein Marshallplan für die Ukraine. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 24.10.2022.

[14] Möglichst rasche Aufbauhilfen für die Ukraine. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 26.10.2022.