Battle for Putin’s pipeline continues in Washington DC


Pipes for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 stored at the port of Mukran in Germany. (Stefan Sauer / dpa via REUTERS)

The battle continues to determine US policy toward Russia’s strategically important Nord Stream 2 pipeline. America has called for the removal of the pipeline, but the incoming Biden administration has been slow to implement the agreed sanctions. The outcome of this political struggle in Washington DC should determine the fate of Vladimir Putin’s favorite energy project.

In December 2020, then US President Donald Trump and Congress approved additional sanctions measures to stop the construction of Putin’s $ 11 billion pipeline, a project connecting Russia and Germany across the sea. Baltic Sea that newly elected US President Joe Biden previously called “a bad deal for Europe.” “

Barely five days after Biden’s inauguration, Russian Gazprom defied impending US sanctions by resuming work on the pipeline in waters off Denmark. Expert estimates currently suggest the pipeline is nearing completion by June 2021.

Throughout the winter months, Germany and Russia engaged in pressure in the American capital. These efforts are credited with helping delay the implementation of sanctions, leading to speculation that the Biden administration may soften its stance on Nord Stream 2. Opponents of the project warn time is critical because once the Russians have completed construction of the pipeline, the battle will shift to German authorities as to whether to connect it or not.

Pipeline developers understand the current German government and business community. The two are said to have “played to buy time” by scheduling negotiations in Washington and then postponing them, according to sources.

On April 7, the White House began selecting Amos Hochstein to become its Special Envoy for Nord Stream 2 with an apparent mandate to shut down the project. Hochstein had served as special envoy for international energy affairs under President Barack Obama and had been a close advisor to Joe Biden as vice president. More recently, he was a member of the international supervisory board of Ukrainian energy giant Naftogaz.

A White House source disclosed Hochstein’s name in early April to Politico. His candidacy angered the Russians, who interpreted it as a signal that Biden was preparing to take a tougher line. In an interview with Tass, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov complained, “Of course, [selecting] such special representatives for a project which has nothing to do with the United States and which is located on another continent speaks volumes about what is called interference in internal affairs, in the economic interest other countries.

While many in Washington were heartened by the news that Hochstein was under review, there is also growing impatience over delays in imposing legally approved sanctions.

“The fight against Russian malign aggression is in the interests of the vital national security of the whole of NATO, of all EU members and of our partners in Eastern Europe,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (DN. H.) wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the end of last month. “We cannot lose sight of this central principle as we enter the pipeline diplomatically.”

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Despite a bipartisan consensus, sanctions have remained mired in the State Department due to an apparent divide between soothsayers and hawks. On April 21, the co-sponsor of sanctions, Senator Ted Cruz, announced a new counter-strategy. “Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a unified, bipartisan and unequivocal message to all companies involved in Nord Stream 2: The United States knows who you are, and if you don’t leave immediately, you will be sanctioned.

“As I have said on several occasions, the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline would seriously undermine US national security, reward Russian expansionism and aggressive crimes, and hold the energy security of our European allies hostage. of Russia, “he added in a press release. Cruz also delayed confirming Biden’s appointments to the State Department until sanctions were put in place.

As the pipeline debate continued in the United States, Putin mobilized the Russian military for a large-scale show of force along the Ukrainian border. In mid-April, Biden reaffirmed his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, announced new sanctions against Russia, and called on Putin to “de-escalate.” However, pipeline sanctions have been excluded from these latest measures.

Putin responded by escalating further. Severe restrictions on Black Sea shipping have been imposed under the guise of military exercises, while vital diesel shipments to Ukraine have been cut.

Then, on April 22, the Russian leader abruptly announced the end of the accumulation of saber blows. The extent of the Russian withdrawal from positions close to the Ukrainian border will become clearer in the coming weeks, but this recent reminder of Moscow’s military might has already helped to draw attention to the current threat posed by Russia.

It is clear that the problem of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline must be dealt with as a priority. Hurry up. The Russians hope to complete the pipeline by June, putting pressure on Germany to make it operational.

The line is essential for Russia to boost its dying economy, gain influence over energy supply and prices in Europe, and bypass Ukraine’s gas pipeline system. The launch of Nord Stream 2 would deprive Ukraine of significant transit revenues. Basically, it would also remove a major obstacle to future large-scale Russian military operations against Ukraine, potentially paving the way for a major escalation in the seven-year conflict between the two countries.

German industry wants the pipeline because Nord Stream 2 will establish Germany as Europe’s gas hub and offer its companies discounts compared to its competitors. It is also a key project for former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a personal friend of Putin who chairs Nord Stream AG and Rosneft in Russia.

Finishing the construction is not the only challenge facing the pipeline, stressed Reinhard Buetikofer, Member of the European Parliament and co-spokesperson for the European Green Party, in a recent interview with the Council of Europe. Atlantic. “Even if they [Russia and German partners] complete the pipeline, they still cannot achieve their ends, ”he said, explaining that there are still serious environmental and legal challenges in Germany and at the EU level that could still prevent its exploitation.

Despite these impending obstacles, Russia is rushing to complete the project. Once construction of the pipeline is completed, opponents fear that Moscow will sabotage existing supply routes through Ukraine in order to force Germany to accept deliveries via Nord Stream 2.

“Russia is not a reliable partner,” commented Buetikofer. “My own determination is that the Russian regime is aggressive and that we must be ready to show solidarity with Ukraine and Russia’s other neighbors. I don’t think Russia is working in the interests of Europe. “

As construction continues and the pipeline nears completion, the window of opportunity to shut down Nord Stream 2 will close soon. The Biden administration can no longer afford to procrastinate if it intends to block the project.

Putin’s recent military build-up on the Ukrainian border underscored his readiness to threaten further acts of international aggression. The United States must now decide whether it wants to disarm a pipeline that critics have long denounced as a geopolitical weapon.

Diane Francis is Senior Research Fellow at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council, Editor-in-Chief at the National Post in Canada, Professor Emeritus at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University, and author of ten books.

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The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.

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the Eurasia Center The mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation by promoting stability, democratic values ​​and prosperity in Eurasia, from Eastern Europe and Turkey in the West to the Caucasus, Russia and Central Asia to the East.


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