US Republicans warn Biden against Nord Stream 2 ‘backdoor deal’

A sign reading 'Nord Stream 2 - Committed. Reliable. Safe.' picutured near the pipeline landfall facility of the joint German-Russian pipeline project Nord Stream 2, in Lubmin, Germany, 15 October 2020. [EPA-EFE/CLEMENS BILAN]

Leading Republicans have warned President Joe Biden against striking a “deal through the back door” with Germany on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. They are also calling for further sanctions against companies involved in the Baltic Sea project.

Strong government statements against the pipeline were not followed by equally strong measures, the group of Republicans complained in a letter dated 5 March and sent to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We fear that this discrepancy can only be explained by the desire to leave room for a deal through the back door with Germany. Any deal that does not stop the completion of Nord Stream 2 would be misguided,” they wrote in the letter released by the press service of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, opposed the project on the grounds it would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economic and political influence over Europe.

Stopping Nord Stream 2 has long been a bipartisan priority, with members of the US Congress arguing that the pipeline’s completion would strengthen Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the expense of European allies.  Russia has cut deliveries of the fuel to Ukraine and parts of Europe in winter during pricing disputes.

Biden himself had publicly called the pipeline a “bad deal for Europe,” and a sanctions package on the project is continuing to be work in progress.

The German government and businesses have repeatedly said they will not abandon the Nord Stream 2 project, despite US sanctions. 

Sources from German business circles told EURACTIV Germany earlier this year that there is no concrete worry of negative economic impacts caused by the US sanctions.

German government, businesses come forward in support of Nord Stream 2

The German government said it will not abandon the Nord Stream 2 project, despite US sanctions and calls by the European Parliament to impose EU measures against the Russian-backed gas pipeline project over the Navalny case.

In their letter, Republicans called on Blinken to put other companies involved in the project on the sanctions list, citing 15 ships and a number of companies in their letter that are associated with the project and against which restrictive measures have not been introduced.

“Given the shrinking window before the Nord Stream 2 pipeline’s completion, we urge you to submit to Congress new sanctions designations as soon as the required information becomes available, rather than wait until May 17th, when the current 90-day reporting period ends and the next mandatory report to Congress is due,” they wrote.

So far, the US has only imposed sanctions against the Russian company KVT-RUS, which operates the ‘Fortuna’ laying ship, because of Nord Stream 2, which former US President Donald Trump announced shortly before the end of her term in January.

The company and ship were also specifically mentioned in a new administration’s report recently submitted to Congress. Contrary to expectations, other companies were not punished or threatened with punitive measures.

Last week, the Danish Maritime Authority revealed that a new Russian pipelaying vessel named the ‘Akademik Cherskiy’ would soon be joining to speed up the finalisation of Nord Stream 2.

Last week,  US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had put a hold on final confirmation of Biden’s CIA director nominee William Burns, delaying a quick vote, to pressure the Biden administration to impose additional sanctions on Nord Stream 2.

“I’ll release my hold when the Biden admin meets its legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies building Putin’s pipeline,” Cruz wrote on Twitter Friday.

According to the letter, Republicans apparently suspect that the Biden government could forego further threats of sanctions if Germany made commitments, for example, promised investments in European energy infrastructure.

“Congressional sanctions in exchange for a vague commitment to ensure Ukrainian gas transit or a promise to invest in European energy infrastructure, it would not only undermine US and European security interests, but also represent an affront to Congress’ Constitutional prerogatives,” says the letter to Blinken.

“It would be extremely concerning if our other European allies and partners were not consulted on U.S. negotiations with Berlin on the pipeline, given that the majority of Europe continues to oppose the completion of this Russian malign influence project,” the letter continues.

“In particular, our strategic partner Ukraine and our Central and Eastern European allies must be consulted in earnest, not simply notified, on negotiations with Berlin,” it adds.

Republicans also appealed to Biden to support efforts to revive US-Germany relations.

A “creative solution” could be a way forward, according to Steven Pifer, Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin and former US ambassador to Ukraine.

“Opinion in Congress and Washington is dead set against the project, but President Biden does not want a big fight with Chancellor Merkel,” he wrote for EURACTIV.

If Gazprom could be persuaded to increase gas transit revenues for Ukraine, that would give the Biden administration a reason not to impose sanctions to block Nord Stream 2’s completion and ammunition to fend off criticism from those who want the pipeline to remain unfinished, Pifer added.

“Such a deal offers a win-win-win: Kyiv could secure a needed plus-up in revenues to its state budget, while Washington and Berlin remove an obstacle from their bilateral agenda,” he argued.

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