Russia’s adversaries in central and eastern Europe are concerned that President Biden is unwilling to fight hard to stop the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, one of Vladimir Putin’s top priorities.
Because it is important: The fight is the first significant test of whether Biden’s tough rhetoric against the Russian leader will be matched by action. Russian opponents fear that Biden does not want to antagonize Angela Merkel and does not impose serious costs on the Germans.
The panorama: The completion of Nord Stream 2 would be a major geopolitical victory for Putin and give him substantial new influence in Europe. Russia has cut off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine in retaliation for the disputes.
- Bypassing Ukraine with a direct pipeline to Germany helps Russia advance its goal of isolating its former client state, now a struggling democracy, from Western Europe.
- Currently, Russian gas has to pass through Ukraine on its way to Europe.
- The pipeline is more than 90% complete and could be completed in the summer without major intervention to stop it.
Driving the news: So far, messages of concern have been conveyed to Americans in private. But on Monday, a source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Axios: “Ukrainians are a bit disappointed that President Biden did not compromise during Munich. [Security] Conference to use all the tools at your fingertips to stop Nord Stream 2. ”
- “But it is not too late,” added the source close to Zelensky, “for the United States to take decisive action, and the Ukrainians hope the Biden administration will.”
The comments follow an unusual Joint public statement Monday by the governments of Poland and Ukraine.
- The foreign ministers of Poland and Ukraine co-authored an opinion piece in Politico Europe urging Biden to follow the lead of the US Congress and do everything in his power to block the pipeline.
- “We ask the President of the United States, Joe Biden, to use all means at his disposal to prevent the project from being completed,” the ministers wrote.
- State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement: “The Biden administration is committed to using all available tools to counter evil Russian influence and support transatlantic energy security goals.”
- Price added: “We have made it clear that companies risk penalties if they are involved in the Nord Stream 2 project. We continue to examine entities involved in potentially sanctionable activities.”
Behind the scenes: On Friday, the State Department submitted a mandatory report to Congress that was supposed to list all the vessels involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2, as well as the insurance companies or other companies involved in the pipeline.
- The report did not name any new companies that could be subject to US sanctions, according to the Wall Street Journal and confirmed to Axios by a source who read the report, which has not been made public.
Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the report as weak and incomplete.
- “The maritime tracking information makes it clear that ships not covered in today’s report are active in supporting the construction of Nord Stream 2,” Risch said in a statement. He demanded an “immediate explanation” from the Biden administration.
- Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.) also said that the Biden administration must do more to stop the pipeline and that she looked forward to receiving information on “additional measures.”
Between lines: America’s partners in Central and Eastern Europe want Biden to make it clear that he is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent the pipeline from being completed.
- This would include sanctioning the entire construction fleet and signaling a willingness to sanction the German utilities that would receive Russian energy.
- President Trump even launched business threats at Merkel as part of his hardline tactics to stop Nord Stream 2.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also paved the way for a broader range of sanctions, saying last summer that he was giving “a clear warning to companies that aid and incite Russia’s malicious influence projects that it will not be tolerated.” … Get out now, or risk the consequences. ”
- Construction on Nord Stream 2 was stopped during the Trump presidency.
While the Biden team has said the pipeline is “bad business” and if they want to stop it, the administration has done little so far to suggest that it is willing to lean on the fight.
- The Russians seem to have noticed. Major construction on Nord Stream 2 resumed after Biden took office.