Dispute over Russian pipeline tests Biden’s reach in Europe

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WASHINGTON (AP) – Pressure is growing on President Joe Biden to take action to prevent the completion of a Russian program …

WASHINGTON (AP) – Pressure is mounting on 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 partners and American allies. Yet such action could cause a huge break in transatlantic relations, especially with Germany, at a time when Biden has made restoring good 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 like Poland and Ukraine who are firmly opposed to him because he sidesteps both.

Of greater concern to the United States, the Russia-Germany pipeline is said to increase Western Europe’s already strong dependence on Russian energy as US-Russian tensions soar over a number of issues, notably Ukraine, electoral interference, cyber-intrusions and repression. 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 its planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, measures to combat climate change and 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 approved a law 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 bill was sponsored by the administration’s vocal critic, 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.

“I 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, ”Shaheen mentioned.

Democrats agreed to back the sanctions after Republicans vowed to drop opposition to two of Biden’s top State Department candidates. Biparty support suggests the administration will struggle to ignore it. Biden was once stung by critics in February for failing to expand 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,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday. “We will continue to do everything we can, including in accordance with the legislation already in force, to oppose its construction and completion.”

But the administration has yet to take a position on the new legislation, which congressional aides on both sides of the aisle say has a good chance of being passed. That would give Biden 15 days from the crossing date to decide whether or not to hit the 20 companies and ships with penalties.

The sanctions – which would apply to German, Russian, Polish and Austrian entities – would freeze their assets, prevent them from doing international business and could affect their leaders.

Even if Biden opposes the legislation, he will face another delay in action in mid-May when the State Department is due to submit an update to Congress on the administration’s compliance with previous laws. aimed at protecting European energy security which demand sanctions against unspecified companies involved in the construction of the gas pipeline which bypasses both Poland and Ukraine.

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 existing Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany.

“I would like to stress 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.

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