“Time is running out here to do something before the completion of the pipeline,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), member of the foreign relations and armed services committees, said on Thursday. “And I think we have to act very quickly.”
The campaign of pressure intensified on Friday when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suspended final confirmation of President Joe Biden’s candidate for CIA director, William Burns, delaying a quick vote, to pressure the Biden administration to impose additional sanctions.
“I will release my grip when Biden’s administrator fulfills his legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies that are building Putin’s pipeline,” Cruz written on twitter Friday.
The momentum on the Hill has put the White House in diplomatic stalemate. The overarching goal of the new administration is to display a united front with Germany and the rest of Europe against Russian aggression. But Germany is eager to see the pipeline completed because it would offer a cheaper alternative to natural gas, meaning the United States could anger a key ally if it proceeds with the sanctions demanded by Congress.
“We are keen to restore our relations with Germany after four years of abuse by the previous administration,” said a senior administration official. “But Congress is not moving. We are between a rock and a hard place.
“A bad deal for Europe”
Biden himself has publicly called the pipeline a “bad deal for Europe,” and a package of sanctions on the project continues to weave its way through the interagency process, even if it is not as swift as some legislators want it. Shutting down Nord Stream 2 has long been a bipartisan priority, with members of Congress saying completing the pipeline would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin at the expense of Ukraine and other US allies.
In its final days, the Trump administration had planned to go so far as to sanction German entities for their role in the project, former officials said. These entities included the German CEO of Nord Stream Matthias Warnig and the German ship Krebs Geo. But they ultimately never did, instead sanctioning only the Russian piping vessel Fortuna and her owner KVT-RUS.
The State Department confirmed the designations in a report to Congress last month, but went no further – angering Democratic and Republican lawmakers who say the administration is mandated by law to identify and sanction all entities involved in the construction of the pipeline, which now includes at least seven Russian ships.
Shaheen and Cruz co-wrote a provision in the annual defense bill that imposed penalties on those involved in the construction of the pipeline. Shaheen also joined Idaho Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, in lobbying Biden last month to fully implement the provision.
The State Department briefed Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members on the administration’s position on Nord Stream 2 last week and will do so again next week, according to a Senate aide. But staff members said they learned nothing new from the briefing, and the senators themselves said they were largely staying on the sidelines.
You won’t like Germans when they’re angry
Several current and former officials have said that at the heart of the problem is how to shut down the pipeline without damaging relations with Germany. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is trying to rebuild Washington’s relations with Berlin after four years of neglect and contempt from the administration of former President Donald Trump. The relationship deteriorated so badly under Trump that German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in 2018 that Europe could no longer count on the United States and “must take its destiny into its own hands.”
National Security Council Europe Director Amanda Sloat has also warned internally against not adopting additional sanctions too quickly for Nord Stream as the administration struggles to mend U.S. relations with the Germany, officials said.
A former national security official close to the White House captured the general sentiment: “A lot of people in the administration feel that the Germans have been terribly mistreated and they want this relationship back on its feet.”
The senior administration official noted, however, that critics should question why the Trump administration has not done more to shut down the pipeline during its four years in office.
“The pipeline is 95% complete and the Trump administration did absolutely nothing about it when given the opportunity,” the official said. “Now former officials who let this happen under their watch are somehow insisting that it is our fault. These same former officials are spreading conspiracy theories over secret discussions. The only discussion the Biden administration has had with the Germans on Nord Stream 2 is to clearly express our opposition.
At the end of January, after speaking with Blinken, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his position remained unchanged. But he said relations with the United States already appeared to be improving. “I have to get used to the fact that I am talking on the phone with my American colleague and that we agree on almost every point,” he told Reuters. “This has not been the case in the past.”
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) Said that while he had “supported” the sanctions efforts, he was also “very uncomfortable with the fact that the United States and Europe are going their separate ways in this subject”.
“I think the ability of the United States and Europe to cooperate on Chinese policy is more important than our policy on Nord Stream 2,” said Murphy, a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “And so we have to find a way to get back to the same page with Europe, and hopefully the Biden administration will be able to have a more functional relationship on energy issues with Europe than Trump does. ‘did.
Play the game of Russia
But other current and former officials say the risks of allowing the pipeline to complete and the influence it could give Russia over Europe and NATO far outweigh the consequences of the anger. of Berlin in the short term. And they say that if Germany is willing to move forward with this project even as Russia continues its display of aggression in eastern Ukraine, there is little evidence that Germany will honor. its commitment to maintain some gas transit through Ukraine even after the completion of the pipeline.
Nord Stream 2 would allow Russia to bypass Ukraine by shipping Russian gas to the EU via the Baltic Sea. Its construction would deprive Kiev of crucial revenue – which Ukrainian officials say is exactly the point.
“Russia’s main motivation is simply to punish Ukraine,” Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economy, Trade and Agriculture Taras Kachka told POLITICO last month. “Ukraine strongly opposes the construction of Nord Stream 2 and sees it as yet another Russian attempt to use energy as a tool of political pressure and blackmail.”
The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Russian officials earlier this week in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and plans to apply more sanctions for Russia’s malicious activities around the world in the coming weeks. But Biden has so far resisted going further than his predecessor in imposing new sanctions on entities involved in building Nord Stream, which current and former officials say would be one of the most effective ways to reduce Putin’s bad behavior.
“Putting a stake at the heart of Nord Stream 2 could, and would, drain billions into Putin’s coffers,” said Ryan Tully, who served as senior director of European and Russian affairs for the Trump NSC.
Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) Led a group of 40 Republican senators in a letter to Biden on Wednesday expressing “deep concern over the administration’s refusal to impose sanctions on entities involved in the Nord Stream pipeline II ”.
Risch said he spoke to a State Department official on Thursday about Nord Stream 2 but came away disappointed.
“I don’t want to go any further than that,” he told POLITICO. A spokesperson for Risch later said: “There was no new information on [Nord Stream 2] raised on appeal.