WASHINGTON – Pressure is mounting for President Joe Biden to take action to prevent the completion of a Russian gas pipeline to Europe that many fear will give the Kremlin significant leverage over US partners and allies.
But such action could create a break in transatlantic relations, especially with Germany, at a time when Biden has made restoring ties with Europe a priority.
As the Nord Stream 2 pipeline nears completion, US lawmakers on both sides have stepped up their demands on a White House reluctant to impose further sanctions on Russian and European companies to stop the project. But the chances of that happening seem slim: Germany continues to support the project by increasing its consumption of natural gas, and the pipeline is around 95% complete.
Biden said he opposed the pipeline, which is owned by Russian state-owned Gazprom, with investments from several European companies. He was keen to present himself as tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin while being a staunch supporter of Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Ukraine, which are opposed to the pipeline because it bypasses both.
Of greater concern to the United States, the Russia-Germany pipeline is said to increase Western Europe’s already heavy reliance on Russian energy, as US-Russian tensions soar over a number of issues , notably Ukraine, electoral interference, cyber-intrusions and repression. Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and his supporters.
At the same time, the administration is seeking broad European support, in particular from Germany, the continent’s economic powerhouse, for a planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, for measures against climate change and for efforts to counter it. China’s increasingly global claim. It is not clear whether sanctions targeting companies in Germany and elsewhere would undermine efforts to advance those goals and mend the relationships that were frayed during Donald Trump’s presidency.
On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously introduced legislation that would require the administration to impose sanctions on 20 companies involved in financing and construction of the pipeline or explain why they deserve exemptions.
In January, the Trump administration hit several Russian companies and ships with sanctions for their involvement, but Biden did not expand the list.
The legislation was sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But he also garnered the support of some of Biden’s strongest supporters of Democratic foreign policy in the Senate, such as committee chairman Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
âI think right now, as we see Putin trying to eliminate his biggest opposition leader, Navalny, in prison, the best move we can make is shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, if we want to get his attention, âShaheen mentioned.
Democrats agreed to back the sanctions after Republicans vowed to drop opposition to two of Biden’s top State Department candidates. The bipartisan support suggests that the administration will struggle to ignore it. Biden was once stung by critics in February for not expanding the Trump administration’s sanctions.
“We share a comprehensive attitude towards Nord Stream 2 with a lot of people on Capitol Hill, and this is the position that this is a bad deal,” the department spokesman said Thursday. of State, Ned Price. “We will continue to do everything we can, including consistent with the legislation already in force, to oppose its construction and finalization.”
But the administration has yet to take a position on the legislation, which congressional aides on both sides of the aisle say has a good chance of being passed. That would give Biden 15 days to decide whether to hit the 20 companies and ships with penalties.
On Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Germany’s cooperation with Russia on Nord Stream 2. She noted that Russian gas is already flowing freely in Europe along other routes, including the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
“I would like to point out that the gas delivered via Nord Stream 2, which is not yet circulating, is no worse than the gas from Nord Stream 1, the one which crosses Ukraine and the one which crosses Turkey from Russia”, Said Merkel.