Republicans May Still Try to Kill Nord Stream 2
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Imagine a U.S. president who negotiated a deal allowing Russia to complete an $11 billion natural gas pipeline to Germany over the strenuous objections of Ukraine, Poland and both parties in Congress. Sounds like Donald Trump, right? Well it’s actually Joe Biden, the guy who defeated Trump in the 2020 election in part by campaigning on what a Russian patsy the incumbent was.
This is the great irony of Biden’s agreement with Germany to drop U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. And a reason Republicans are trying a last-minute plan to scuttle the deal.
The final agreement includes a few sweeteners for Ukraine, which stands to lose billions of dollars in revenue because the pipeline bypasses its territory. There is a commitment to help Ukraine diversify into green energy. There is a provision that the U.S. and Germany will consider sanctions if Russia uses the pipeline as an energy weapon against Europe. But at the end of the day, Biden appeased Moscow and got next to nothing in return.
This is apparent for a few reasons. To start, consider the statement from Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs: “Russia has never used energy supplies or the issue of gas transit as a weapon and does not intend to do so in the future.” This would be news to Ukrainians who experienced a gas cutoff in June 2014, a few months after Russian forces and proxies invaded their country.
Even Biden’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, believes that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could subject European countries to economic and energy blackmail from Russia. She said as much in her confirmation hearing earlier this year. And she affirmed it was “a bad pipeline” during a hearing this week in the Senate.
This is also the view of Ukraine’s government. Politico this week had an interview with presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak, who said, “Nord Stream 2 is a specific tool for Russia to maximize opportunities for destabilizing the Eastern European countries.”
A joint statement from the Ukrainian and Polish foreign ministers makes a similar point, saying that the Biden administration’s decision to stop sanctioning the entities building the pipeline only deepens a political and security crisis sparked by Russia.
What’s remarkable about this public criticism is that it comes after the State Department dispatched a senior counselor, Derek Chollet, to Kiev to persuade the Ukrainian government to go along with the deal to allow the pipeline project to continue.
Four years ago, members of both parties foresaw the looming disaster of a president lifting sanctions on Russia’s energy sector before the Kremlin removed its forces from Ukraine and returned Crimea, which it annexed in 2014. Lawmakers passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which included a novel provision that allowed Congress to override the president’s national security waiver in most modern sanctions legislation. At the time, this was meant to be a check on Trump, whom Democrats had accused of colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election.
It turned out that Trump supported the tough line on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and so did many others in the Republican Party and many Democrats. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, for example, helped write and pass new sanctions legislation in 2019 and 2020 that targeted the pipeline specifically, with support from Democrats and the White House.
Now, some Republican lawmakers, led by Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, are considering a longshot maneuver to kill the deal with Germany. Under the countering adversaries law, they feel, the administration is obligated to designate Nord Stream 2 AG, the Swiss-based subsidiary overseeing the pipeline, and should not be free to immediately waive such sanctions, as it has in the past. As Toomey’s office told me: “Irrespective of the Biden administration’s mistaken policy choices, the president has an obligation to follow existing law … and sanction Nord Stream II AG.”
It’s unclear if this gambit will work. But either way, it shows just how hollow the Democratic Party’s positioning on Russia was during the Trump years. The man who defeated Trump in 2020 is now reversing his toughest policy against Russia.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
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