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Congress Passes More Legislation Aimed At Curbing Russia's Energy Grip On Europe

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez: “This legislation marks the dawn of a new day for the United States’ engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean." (file photo)

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Congress has approved legislation to bolster its security and energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, where newly discovered, major natural-gas fields have the ability to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

The bipartisan Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, which was approved on December 19, is the latest piece of U.S. legislation passed this year that aims to diversify Europe’s energy sources away from Kremlin-controlled companies.

“This legislation marks the dawn of a new day for the United States’ engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean. By including this legislation in the government funding package, the United States Congress has prioritized our significant national security interests in the region,” Senator Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), who is the leading minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on December 20.

Congress also passed legislation on December 20 that sets up a $1 billion fund to finance energy infrastructure projects that promote energy independence in Eastern and Central Europe. Earlier in the week, Congress approved legislation to halt construction of Russia’s new natural-gas pipeline to Germany.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act authorizes the United States to give new security assistance to Cyprus and Greece and lifts the U.S. arms embargo on Cyprus. It also authorizes the establishment of an Energy Center to enhance cooperation between the United States, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.

Major gas fields have been found off of Israel, Egypt, and Cyprus over the past few years with more expected, potentially making the Eastern Mediterranean a supplier of energy to Europe via Greece. Most recently, Texas-based ExxonMobil in February announced a major gas find off of Cyprus.

However, regional security is a major issue that could hamper development of the fields, thus driving U.S. interest to enhance security in the region.

Turkey’s military occupies the northern part of Cyprus and Ankara has challenged the island’s drilling rights in its exclusive economic zone. Turkey’s Navy last year stopped European vessels seeking to drill off the waters of Cyprus.

The legislation has also expressed concern about the existence of Russian vessels in the region to support Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. The legislation requires the U.S. secretary of state to produce a report within 90 days assessing Russia’s security, political, and energy goals in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act also requires the secretary of state to submit a strategy on enhancing U.S. security and energy cooperation with the countries in the region, including evaluating ways to deliver the gas to Europe.

While an undersea pipeline has been proposed, the gas could be shipped as liquefied natural gas to ports in Greece and elsewhere.

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    Todd Prince

    Todd Prince is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL based in Washington, D.C. He lived in Russia from 1999 to 2016, working as a reporter for Bloomberg News and an investment adviser for Merrill Lynch. He has traveled extensively around Russia, Ukraine, and Central Asia.