Biden’s backtracking on Nord Stream 2 a gift to Putin

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

The Biden Administration’s decision to waive the sanctions on the Russian-German consortium constructing the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline which will markedly increase the amount of natural gas that Russia will be able to pump directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern European nations like Ukraine and Belarus, has been met with widespread criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, and the Ukrainian community in the United States.

“We firmly believe it is in the U.S. national interest to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty to protect Europe’s eastern flank from Russian aggression,” read a statement issued by the Congressional Ukraine Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Andy Harris (R-MD), Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), May 20 in response to President Biden’s decision to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, which is majority owned by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom and its CEO, Putin crony Matthias Warnig.
“It is in the U.S. national interest to limit Russia’s malign influence and energy coercion in Europe. It is in the U.S. national interest to stop the spread of strategic corruption by malign actors in Europe to protect the integrity of democratic institutions and the transatlantic relationship.

“While we appreciate the Administration’s efforts to maintain relations with our close ally Germany as a nation also facing Russian malign influence, it cannot be at the expense of transatlantic and Ukrainian security as that nation faces down Russia’s continued aggression and the deaths of over 14,000 innocents. The waiving of the sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG is against both U.S. national and transatlantic security interests, and also undermines the growing movement in Germany to end Nord Stream 2. We strongly urge the Administration to reconsider its position,” the statement continued.

A week earlier the Congressional Ukraine Caucus sent a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urging the sanctioning of all entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 Russian malign influence project including Nord Stream 2 AG pursuant to PEESCA (Protecting European Energy Security Act) and strong bipartisan Congressional intent.
“As you well know, Russian authorities now seek to complete Nord Stream 2 as a political and economic weapon to cut off critical gas transit through Ukraine and to increase its leverage over Europe. That is why the European Parliament along with several European countries have joined the United States in calling for the project to be stopped,” they stated.

“NordStream 2 is a geopolitical scheme designed to provide Putin’s Russia with additional malign influence on our European allies and partners. Instead of standing by Ukraine, these proposed waivers contradict in letter and spirit the intent behind the bipartisan sanctions regime passed by Congress: preventing the completion of the NordStream 2 pipeline,” echoed the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA.

“In light of Defense Department officials reporting this month that close to 80,000 Russian troops remain on the border with Ukraine (the biggest force Russia has amassed there since 2014), President Biden should maintain the commitments made to our allies in Eastern Europe, and continue America’s bipartisan record of support for Ukraine. Instead of issuing waivers, the United States should be strengthening sanctions and ratcheting up the pressure on Russia to leave Ukrainian territory,” it added.

Both Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senator Jim Risch, the senior Republican on the same committee, slammed the decision. “I urge the administration to rip off the Band-Aid, lift these waivers and move forward with the congressionally mandated sanctions,” said Menendez. Risch said the waivers will be “a gift to Putin that will only weaken the United States’ leverage in the lead up to the impending Biden-Putin summit.”

In fact, not only is this decision “a gift to Putin” it also contradicts all the administration’s own statements to date. Biden himself has called Nord Stream 2 “a bad deal — for Germany, for Ukraine, and for our Central and Eastern European allies and partners” . And just one day before his announcement, Blinken said “this pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security”, adding: “The Department reiterates its warning that any entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks U.S. sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline.”

Yet, on May 19 he can declare with a totally straight face that: “I have determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, its CEO Matthias Warnig, and Nord Stream 2 AG’s corporate officers.”
How can this possibly be “in the national interest of the United States”, if the pipeline is “a bad deal — for Germany, for Ukraine, and for our Central and Eastern European allies and partners”?

Perhaps the answer may lie in the Biden Administration’s admission that stopping Nord Stream 2 is a “long shot” because it is 90% complete. So, all previous statements notwithstanding, the Biden administration has effectively given up on trying to stop the pipeline. This is also a sop to Germany, which is determined to complete the project, despite the fact it will increase Russia’s influence over that country by controlling its gas supply.

In going ahead with this project, Germany is putting its own selfish interests ahead of European and world security. And the United States is enabling Germany because it is trying to mend fences after the tumultuous Trump years. But giving up on stopping NordStream 2 is not the way to do so. The United States is the world’s third largest (after Australia and Qatar) exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and could fill much of the gap in Germany and other European countries’ needs to offset any reduction in Russian supplies.

The Biden Administration’s backtracking on Nord Stream 2 is a most unwise and unwelcome development and needs to be reversed.