The counterargument to Trump’s defense of Russia: Was he wrong?

Jeb Hensarling, a Republican representative from Texas, has a theory: the president is simply wrong. While criticizing Russia President Vladimir Putin at a hearing Wednesday, Hensarling noted a report from the European Union Council…

The counterargument to Trump’s defense of Russia: Was he wrong?

Jeb Hensarling, a Republican representative from Texas, has a theory: the president is simply wrong. While criticizing Russia President Vladimir Putin at a hearing Wednesday, Hensarling noted a report from the European Union Council Commission that Russia had asked Ukraine to “terminate” a U.S. natural gas pipeline project, the South Stream.

By condemning the pipeline, Trump has effectively pulled the plug on Europe’s ambition to diversify its energy sources, Hensarling charged.

“As reported, the South Stream project was of the utmost importance to Ukraine, and that was before their neighbor to the north came between them and the United States,” Hensarling said. “The administration’s action is going to undercut the efforts to bring the South Stream to fruition. So I am very concerned about this.”

A White House official called Hensarling’s comments, “making accusations without citing a source with demonstrable evidence that simply does not comport with the facts.” They noted that the South Stream was proposed by Russia with Ukraine’s help, in 2009 and completed in 2013 with the help of then-President Obama. The Trump administration is supportive of the project because it hopes to decrease reliance on Russia, the official said.

If, in fact, the Trump administration has killed South Stream, the U.S. action has created an additional source of tension between the U.S. and Western Europe. The pipeline did not amount to U.S. energy dominance over Europe, the official said, noting that only a fraction of the pipeline’s capacity had been sold, and Ukraine remained its transit country.

Regardless, the pipeline was a symbol of the reliance on Russian energy. And Moscow’s declining position in Europe has led to some behind-the-scenes efforts to bring the gas to the continent directly instead.

U.S. Representative Will Hurd, a Republican from Texas, has been critical of Russia throughout his political career. During a House Foreign Affairs hearing on foreign ties and Kremlin influence in November 2017, Hurd stood up and addressed Trump directly, noting that he was not happy with U.S. leadership on the issue.

“What I see is, you’re going to let Russia dictate the terms on Europe’s energy,” Hurd said at the time. “You’re doing absolutely nothing.”

Some conservatives view Trump’s recent actions in Europe as an issue of U.S. weakness. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, described a “regime change” in Europe on Thursday.

“Putin wants the West to go weaker, to give up its world leadership and its status in world trade, especially now, when the geopolitical center of gravity is shifting to Asia,” Corsi wrote. “They want Europe to drop out of NATO and hand over the German economy to the Communists.”

Allies of the president like John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have further criticized Trump’s move as allowing America to lose its influence. “He’s asking America to take a new role as something it is not anymore,” Bolton said on Fox News on Thursday. “We’re not the great power, you know, it’s not our place anymore to be telling Europe how to behave.”

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