Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Nord Stream 2: context of the abandonment of sanctions by Biden administration

 In the dispute over the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the government of US President Joe Biden waived sanctions against the operating company - also out of consideration for relations with Germany. In a report sent to Congress by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, it is said that the waiver of punitive measures against Nord Stream 2 AG in Zug, Switzerland, its German managing director Matthias Warnig and four other employees is in the “national interest” of the USA. The reason given was that such sanctions "had a negative impact on US relations with Germany, the EU and other European allies and partners".

The report submitted to the German Press Agency further states that, on the basis of the US sanctions laws against the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2 and the Russian-Turkish gas project Turkstream, punitive measures would be issued against four Russian ships that laid pipes. Sanctions would also be imposed on four Russian institutions. Nevertheless, with Washington’s recent positioning, it seems increasingly unlikely that the completion of Nord Stream 2 will still be prevented over the last few meters. The Republicans accuse the Democrat Biden of having given Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin "a present".

According to the US Department report, Nord Stream 2 AG and managing director Warnig have also violated the sanctions laws. Blinken decided to forego penalties. This creates space for talks at diplomatic level with Germany in order to address the risks for Ukraine and European energy security through the completion of the pipeline.

In plain language, this should mean that the Americans are now expecting a sign of concession from the German side - perhaps by the next sanctions report, Blinking, to Congress in three months. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) has already brought up an idea for a compromise: to finish the pipeline, but make operations dependent on Russia's behavior. With the smaller coalition partner SPD, however, such mind games are not so well received. In contrast to the Union, the Greens and the FDP, the Social Democrats are firmly committed to the pipeline project, without any restrictions.

In the federal government, the extensive waiver of sanctions by the USA is causing a sigh of relief for now. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) speaks of a “constructive step”. He sees the decision as a sign of appreciation for Germany, an important ally. In Berlin one has recently been increasingly annoyed that the much-invoked new beginning in German-American relations after the disastrous era of US President Donald Trump was overshadowed by the ongoing pipeline dispute. You now have to see “that this project does not burden our really excellent cooperation in any way,” Maas said on Wednesday.

The waiver of sanctions should also ease the strained relationship between the USA and Russia to a certain extent. The Russian company Gazprom is formally the sole shareholder of Nord Stream 2 AG. In addition, however, the German corporations Wintershall Dea - a joint venture between BASF and LetterOne - and Uniper, as well as the Dutch-British Shell, Engie from France and OMV from Austria are added as “supporters”. The Russian government spoke of a step towards normalizing the strained relations with Washington. Putin may now agree to a European summit proposed by Biden in June.

The government of the Democrat Biden may meet with applause for its actions in Berlin and Moscow. But she gives the Republicans in the US Congress a great opportunity - also because Blinken had promised to prevent the completion of the pipeline as best it could. It doesn't help that the chief diplomat is now declaring that they are still strictly against Nord Stream 2. Republican Senator Ted Cruz - one of the authors of the US sanctions laws against Nord Stream 2 - is already outraged about the “Biden-Putin pipeline” ». The top Republican in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Jim Risch, accused the Biden government of putting German and Russian interests above those of allies in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe.

Both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly support the sanctions laws against Nord Stream 2. Biden has also repeatedly called the project “a bad deal for Europe”. In fact, since taking office on January 20, he has hardly taken any concrete action to stop the pipeline. In the previous State Department sanctions report three months ago - the first one that was blinked - no new sanctions were imposed. What goes down in the criticism of the Republicans, however: Even the Trump administration has only issued punitive measures against a single Russian ship and its operating company.

Trump - who was repeatedly accused of being too Putin-friendly - regularly railed against Nord Stream 2. But the Republican also shied away from imposing far-reaching punitive measures. He would have had the power to do so as US President, regardless of the sanctions laws against the pipeline. Senator Cruz - otherwise a loyal Trump ally - said at a hearing in Congress in December 2019: "If the pipeline is completed, it will be the fault of the members of this administration who sat on their buttocks."

Source: WELT

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