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Fierce power struggles behind the scenes between Washington and Berlin for dominance in Europe

By Horst Teubert and Dr. Peer Heinelt

The transatlantic power struggle for dominance in Eastern and Southeastern Europe is coming to a head – with an eye on rearmament, energy supplies, and the reconstruction of Ukraine.

While the E.U. Commission initially claimed leadership in reconstructing Ukraine, Washington now says that Brussels lacks the “political and financial weight” to do so.

Instead, the leadership should lie with the United States.

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At the same time, the U.S. is suppressing an initiative in Poland pushed by Berlin to create a European air defense system and is in the process of establishing Poland as a hub for the proliferation of U.S. nuclear technology in Eastern and Southeastern Europe – at the expense of the French nuclear industry.

Eastern and Southeastern Europe. (Photo internet reproduction)
Eastern and Southeastern Europe. (Photo internet reproduction)

Last, they are beginning to transform Eastern and Southeastern Europe into another outlet for liquefied U.S. fracked gas.

They are using the Three Seas Initiative, a regional project involving twelve states between the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea, and the Black Sea, initiated in 2015 at Washington’s suggestion, including by Poland.

The initiative runs counter to German interests in the region.


The power struggles between Washington and Berlin for the leading position in Eastern and Southeastern Europe have been going on for years.

The U.S. can count on loyal cooperation partners, especially in Poland and the Baltic states.

Moreover, they rely to some extent on the Three Seas Initiative, a loose cooperation format encompassing twelve countries between the Baltic, Adriatic, and Black Seas.

The initiative was formulated in 2013 and 2014 by the U.S.-based Atlantic Council and a lobbying group of Eastern and Southeastern European energy companies.

It was officially launched in 2015 by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.

It held its first summit in Dubrovnik, Croatia, at the end of August 2016.

The goal of the participating states is to supplement the one-sided east-west orientation in infrastructure and trade flows, which is focused on Germany, with new north-south connections between the riparian states of the Baltic Sea and the Adriatic Sea, as well as the Black Sea.

This is to create new development perspectives that are at least potentially independent of the central power of the E.U., the Federal Republic.

In June, at a summit in Riga, the leaders of the Three Seas Initiative invited Ukraine to participate in their projects.


From the perspective of the United States, the Three Seas Initiative lends itself to strengthening U.S. influence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe because it opposes the region’s dominant alignment with the E.U.’s central German power.

In the process, the United States is striving not least to transform the countries into sales markets for its liquefied natural gas and thus also to bind them more closely to itself.

For example, the port in Klaipėda, Lithuania, is regularly supplied with U.S. liquefied gas.

Lithuania announced at the beginning of April 2022 that it was the first European country to withdraw from the supply of Russian gas completely.

Latvia and Estonia also purchase U.S. liquefied natural gas from Lithuania.

Poland, which maintains its terminal in Świnoujście, could also import the raw material via Lithuania.

To the south, in turn, U.S. liquefied natural gas tankers land at a terminal off the Croatian island of Krk, which has been in operation since early 2021 and is set to be expanded from a volume of 2.6 to 6.1 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

Croatia is also expanding the pipeline infrastructure that runs north of Krk. In principle, Hungary and Slovenia can also be supplied via Krk.

On a selective basis, this has already been done by tanker trucks.

(Three Seas Initiative explained in 120 seconds)


The United States is currently intensifying its cooperation with Poland in several areas – to the detriment of Germany and the E.U.

One example is the plans to build a joint European air and missile defense system, which 15 European states, with significant participation by the Federal Republic of Germany, adopted on Oct. 13.

The supporters of the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI) include the Baltic states and six other member states of the Three Seas Initiative.

Poland is not among them.

The reason is that Warsaw – already a loyal buyer of U.S. war equipment for years and an extremely close military cooperation partner of the United States – has long been building its air defenses, which it does not want to integrate into the ESSI.

Thus, the United States is building a defense system based on Patriot air defense batteries called Wisła.

A second system, called Narew, is being built in close cooperation between Poland and the United Kingdom.

This is causing resentment in Berlin and Brussels, and displeasure in Warsaw. Poland’s exclusive cooperation with the U.S. and the U.K. stands in the way of building a unified European air defense system under the ESSI.


Poland is also attracting attention because it is embarking on close, possibly far-reaching nuclear cooperation with the United States.

The background is that Warsaw wants to escape its massive dependence on coal-fired power plants by building nuclear power plants.

As recently as the end of August, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki suggested during a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron that the French company E.D.F. could be awarded the contract to build the first power plant.

“In matters of nuclear power plants, France is a natural partner.”

Over the weekend, however, Polish Minister of State Property Jacek Sasin, after talks with U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in Washington, now said that it is likely that the U.S. corporation Westinghouse will build the first, possibly the second, Polish nuclear power plant.

In addition, he said, Poland wants to become a “nuclear center for all of East-Central Europe” with U.S. help and act as a hub for the expansion of nuclear power.

The country’s increasingly comprehensive alignment with Washington provokes serious opposition in this case.

According to media reports, the E.U. Commission is considering blocking Poland’s unilateral nuclear cooperation with the United States. Poland, of course, would face, again, according to Warsaw, “the question of the limits of our sovereignty.”


Further disputes are now being added over the reconstruction of Ukraine.

As early as May, the E.U. Commission had stated that it wanted to establish a Ukraine Reconstruction Platform together with Kyiv and coordinate all international reconstruction efforts through it.

In September, a strategy paper prepared by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in cooperation with U.S. government agencies stated that “strong leadership” was essential for the project.

However, it was not the E.U. Commission, which lacked “the necessary political and financial weight,” but only the G7.

The first coordinator of the reconstruction would have to be “an American with global stature.”

(European Sky Shield Initiative, ESSI)

This, in turn, has triggered fierce resentment in Brussels, where it is pointed out that Ukraine has, after all, been granted the formal status of an E.U. accession candidate.

At the beginning of the week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared in a newspaper article – almost as a compromise proposal – that “everyone should join forces in the reconstruction of Ukraine – the E.U., the G7, and our partners far beyond”; the E.U. “has an important role” to play here.

The E.U.’s role in the reconstruction of Ukraine is “not one or the other”.

The dispute over who will lead the reconstruction effort – and thus lay the groundwork for Ukraine’s future direction – continued Tuesday at the Berlin Reconstruction Conference.

It was organized jointly by the E.U. and the G7 – a circumstance in which Scholz wanted to be understood as meaning that “not one or the other will do it,” but all of them together.

It was now a matter of creating a structure that was “a mixture of many things.”

But this is not the end of the power struggle.

This post was published first here.

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