In May, the US blacklisted 13 Russian ships and three companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2 – a pipeline set to bring Russian gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea. However, it waived sanctions against Switzerland-registered Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO Matthias Warnig, despite previously concluding their activities were punishable.
Joe Biden refused to go along with those within the US State Department who urged sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, which is implementing Russia’s nearly-completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, as well as its CEO Matthias Warnig, reported The Washington Post.
Nord Stream 2, a 745-mile-long pipeline set to transport up to 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Germany each year under the Baltic Sea has been a particularly contentious issue within the US administration, writes the outlet.
Joe Biden disagreed with some of his own aides and lawmakers within the Democratic Party, who sought a more aggressive push to kill the project, sources are cited as saying.
Critics view the joint project between Russia’s Gazprom and European energy giants as a major geostrategic coup for the Kremlin, endowing it with the power to wield gas as a “tool of coercion”.
Moscow, which has long maintained that the pipeline was purely an economic project, believes Washington’s opposition to it stems from an anti-competitive stance, as the US has suggested its allies buy its LNG instead.
Last month’s decision to back off from sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO was reportedly particularly divisive.
A raft of sanctions had been proposed by the State Department aimed at blocking the pipeline, without waivers for the aforementioned Switzerland-registered company or chief executive, said officials familiar with the decision, cited by the outlet. The stance had been backed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, his deputy Wendy Sherman and Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland.
Joe Biden, supported by top National Security Council aides, is believed to have disagreed.
The 46th POTUS ostensibly argued that the move would inflame relations with key ally Germany, which has long insisted that it want to see the $11-billion pipeline completed. Attempts to block the pipeline are viewed by Berlin, which remained committed to the pipeline’s completion despite an outcry from Washington, as a violation of its sovereignty.
With the pipeline over 90 percent complete, officials within the White House purportedly deemed Nord Stream as a fait accompli not worth jeopardizing US-German ties over.
Nevertheless, the decision to waive sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO – hailed by Berlin as “a constructive step” – is said to have triggered bipartisan anger in Congress.
Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), a top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined Republicans in slamming the move.
“This decision has created uncertainty in many corners of Europe. I am opposed to the decision,” said Menendez.
Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his deputy, Jon Finer, are singled out by sources as spearheading the current administration’s drive toward a more flexible and ‘calibrated approach’ to dealing with Moscow.
As for the US-German relationship, Amanda Sloat, NSC senior director for Europe, is perceived as overseeing that fallout from the Nord Stream issue is not allowed to damage ties with the ally. This comes as Washington has been seeking to enlist Berlin in a coalition against China’s “threat”.
“Secretary Blinken and other senior State Department officials share the President’s conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a coercive tool against Ukraine or any other country,” a senior State Department official was quoted as saying.
He added that sanctions were “just one tool”.
“…We are using the space the limited sanctions waivers provided to engage in diplomacy with Germany to reduce the risks the pipeline poses to European energy security,” emphasized the source.
Nord Stream 2, which has largely enjoyed support in Europe, was vehemently opposed in Washington from the outset. The US insisted that Nord Stream 2 would increase the EU’s dependency on Russian gas.
As European nations ignored Washington’s calls and proceeded with the project, America slapped extraterritorial sanctions on the pipeline in 2019.
Most recently, it blacklisted 13 Russian ships and three firms linked to the project, while waiving sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, the firm behind the pipeline’s construction, and its CEO Matthias Warnig.
At the time, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it was in the US “national interest” to keep Warnig and Nord Stream 2 AG unaffected by sanctions.
In June 2021, the first line of the Nord Stream 2 was completed and the second is due to be finished in a couple of months, according to current estimates.