Shadow Government

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Biden Must Follow the Law and Sanction Nord Stream Now

Why has the administration been so half-hearted on a malign Russian influence project?

By , the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and , the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Russian pipe-laying vessel near the Nord Stream 2 construction site.
A man looks at the Russian pipe-laying vessel Akademik Cherskiy in the port of Mukran on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen, northeastern Germany, on Sept. 7, 2020.

New U.S. administrations are always tried and tested by the country’s adversaries. So it came as no surprise when, after having been halted in 2019, major construction resumed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in January—activity that is subject to mandatory U.S. sanctions as set out by law.

What has been surprising, however, is the half-hearted response by the Biden administration.

Nord Stream 2 is not just a pipeline project to bring Russian natural gas to Germany and on to Western Europe via the Baltic Sea—it is a malign Russian influence project that poses a significant national security risk to the United States and to our European allies and partners. It threatens to deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow and hand Russian President Vladimir Putin another tool to exert political pressure on Europe, particularly Ukraine. Russia has weaponized its gas supply before, cutting off deliveries to Ukraine—and thus much of Europe—in 2006 and 2009.

New U.S. administrations are always tried and tested by the country’s adversaries. So it came as no surprise when, after having been halted in 2019, major construction resumed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in January—activity that is subject to mandatory U.S. sanctions as set out by law.

What has been surprising, however, is the half-hearted response by the Biden administration.

Nord Stream 2 is not just a pipeline project to bring Russian natural gas to Germany and on to Western Europe via the Baltic Sea—it is a malign Russian influence project that poses a significant national security risk to the United States and to our European allies and partners. It threatens to deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow and hand Russian President Vladimir Putin another tool to exert political pressure on Europe, particularly Ukraine. Russia has weaponized its gas supply before, cutting off deliveries to Ukraine—and thus much of Europe—in 2006 and 2009.

The majority of European countries oppose Nord Stream 2, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe, who fear being more vulnerable to Russian political pressure once the pipeline circumventing them is completed. In Germany, environmentalists oppose the pipeline, as does the Green Party, Germany’s second strongest party in the polls. Even influential members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democrats, have called for the Russo-German project to be halted.

For all of these reasons, the U.S. Congress, with strong bipartisan support, included provisions in the 2020 and 2021 National Defense Authorization Acts that require the administration to place sanctions on entities facilitating the construction of the pipeline. The intent behind these mandatory sanctions was crystal clear: Prevent the completion of Nord Stream 2.

If Biden can shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, why does he allow a pipeline to be built that would export the Kremlin’s malign influence?

Current maritime tracking information and the Danish Maritime Authority Notices to Mariners demonstrate exactly how many ships are actively laying pipe or engaging in pipe-laying activities related to the project. This ongoing activity is exceptionally troubling as the pipeline is reportedly already about 95 percent complete. Yet the Biden administration has only placed sanctions on two entities that were already sanctioned by former President Donald Trump—the pipe-laying ship Fortuna and the Russian company that owns it, KVT-RUS. The administration has also failed to sanction Nord Stream 2 AG—the company that, according to its own website, was “established for planning, construction and subsequent operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.”

These actions are in stark contrast with what President Joe Biden and senior officials within his administration have previously said about the pipeline.

Biden said he believes Nord Stream 2 is a “fundamentally bad deal for Europe.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also assured the U.S. Senate that he was “determined to do whatever I can” to stop the pipeline and promised that Biden would “use every persuasive tool that we have” to do so.

The Biden administration has already shut down the Keystone XL pipeline, the international pipeline that delivers Canadian oil to the United States. If it can shut down this pipeline between two friendly neighbors, why does it allow a pipeline that would export the Kremlin’s malign influence, to the detriment of our allies, to continue being built?

While the positive, but largely symbolic, sanctions on Moscow for the poisoning and wrongful imprisonment of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny were a welcome step, stopping the pipeline would actually help stop the spread of Russian influence into Europe and send a strong signal to Putin that his destabilizing behavior will face painful consequences.

We support efforts to maintain strong relations with Germany. However, giving Putin exactly what he wants by allowing this pipeline to be completed is not the way.

Biden’s flawed decision to agree to an extension of the New START treaty has already handed Putin a major victory. Putin’s No. 1 request of the United States was a full five-year extension with no strings attached; granting that request surrendered U.S. leverage to address structural flaws in the treaty. Nord Stream 2 is Putin’s next major goal. Biden recently said he believes Putin is “a killer.” If that is true, why is he not doing more to stop Putin from accomplishing one of his biggest priorities?

The time for action is now. We urge Biden to stop dragging his feet on this issue and implement, without delay, the mandatory U.S. sanctions on all vessels and companies currently working to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Michael McCaul is a U.S. congressman from Texas and the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He formerly served as the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security for six years. Twitter: @RepMcCaul

Jim Risch is a U.S. Senator from Idaho and the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @SenatorRisch

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