Wednesday, January 26, 2022

US Senate debate increases pressure over Nord Stream 2

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The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline is also hotly debated in the United States. The Republicans and the Democrats in the Senate want to achieve more sanctions – they just haven’t been able to agree so far.

Against the background of the Ukraine conflict, the US Senate has dealt with possible new sanctions against the controversial Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2. The Senators debated Thursday on a bill submitted by Republican Ted Cruz, which specifically targets the operating company Nord Stream 2 AG.

The text also limits President Joe Biden’s powers to grant exceptions to sanctions with reference to national security interests.

During the Senate debate, Cruz said the law was the “best way” to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. “If we don’t get together today, Ukraine threatens to be completely erased from the map.”

The sanctions are not directed against Germany, the federal government or a German company, the senator asserted. Switzerland-based Nord Stream 2 AG is wholly owned and controlled by Russian gas giant Gazprom.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, on the other hand, argued that the sanctions bill would not stop Nord Stream 2 from being commissioned, nor would it prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. Rather, it would be a “gift to Russia” because it would drive a wedge between the US and its European allies. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen said the West could use Nord Stream 2 as “leverage” to stop Putin from invading Ukraine.

The vote was scheduled for the afternoon (2:45 p.m. local time; 8:45 p.m. CET). The bill needs a majority of 60 of the 100 senators. Since the Republicans have 50 senators and ten Democrats would have to vote with them, approval was considered unlikely.

The pipeline, which has already been completed but has not yet been commissioned, is intended to bypass the Ukraine and bring Russian gas to Germany. The project has met with widespread rejection in the United States: the Biden government and parliamentarians from both parties see Nord Stream 2 as a geopolitical instrument of power in the hands of the Kremlin. Biden’s Democrats and the opposition Republicans are arguing about the right way to deal with the pipeline.

Last May, Biden waived an exception to sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and its German managing director Matthias Warnig so as not to strain relations with Germany. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken stated at the time that waiving the punitive measures was “in the national interest of the USA”.

Republicans like Ted Cruz then pushed for further sanctions to be imposed to prevent the pipeline from being put into operation. An attempt by the conservative senator to anchor the sanctions in the new defense budget passed at the end of last year failed.

However, Cruz was able to ensure that the text of his law is now being voted on. As a means of pressure, he had blocked the confirmation of numerous ambassadors nominated by Biden, including the designated ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann.

Even if the bill were to fail, new sanctions against Nord Stream 2 would not be off the table. The Democrats have presented their own draft law in the Senate, which provides for a series of sanctions against Russia, should the Russian armed forces invade Ukraine.

Sanctions should then not only be imposed on Putin, Russian government members and banks, but also on all companies and their executives involved in the “planning, construction or operation” of Nord Stream 2. The US government argues that the threat of sanctions in the event of an invasion of Ukraine is more effective than sanctions imposed before a possible invasion.

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