Germany Confirms That U.S. Won't Put Sanctions On Russian Undersea Pipeline Project
By RFE/RL May 19, 2021
Germany's top diplomat has confirmed reports that the United States will not impose new sanctions on the company in charge of the undersea Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a move welcomed by the Kremlin.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that a report by the U.S. State Department set to be published on May 19 lists sanctions against a number of entities. But he also said there were "presidential waivers" for the company running the project, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its chief executive, a German citizen.
"We perceive this to be a constructive step that we will gladly continue to discuss with our partners in Washington," said Maas, who said he spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken about the issue.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has been under pressure, from Republicans and others, to hit the Baltic Sea project with financial penalties. The pipeline will markedly increase the amount of natural gas that Russia will be able to pump directly to Germany, bypassing Eastern European transit countries like Ukraine and Belarus.
U.S. officials, and some European leaders, have warned it will increase Germany's dependence on Russian gas, and make it vulnerable to Russian political whims.
Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said she was disappointed about the waivers.
"I've made it clear to the Biden administration from day one that every effort should be made to prevent completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline," she said.
Jim Risch (Idaho), the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the waivers will be "a gift to Putin."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the project, saying that Russian gas already flows freely into Europe along other routes, including an existing Baltic Sea pipeline.
Axios, a U.S. political newsletter, and the Reuters news agency quoted unnamed officials as saying that the Biden administration would waive sanctions on the company overseeing the pipeline's construction.
Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom is the majority shareholder in the company.
Axios also reported that sanctions would be waived on Matthias Warnig, an ally of President Vladimir Putin and the company's CEO.
There was no immediate White House comment on the reports.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he welcomed the U.S. media reports, saying, "the very fact that such publications appeared is already quite positive."
The reports came on the eve on the first meeting between Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, highlighting how Biden is trying to mend ties with European allies, but also be tough on Russia.
Blinken, who has called the pipeline "a bad idea, bad for Europe, bad for the United States," was scheduled to hold talks with Lavrov amid deteriorating relations between Moscow and Washington.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said waiving the sanctions would be seen as positive in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency. But he told a news briefing that "no bilateral consultations on the matter are under way with the Americans."
Reuters said the State Department would deliver its report on Nord Stream 2 as early as May 19. The report, required by Congress, will say that Nord Stream 2 AG and Warnig engaged in sanctionable activity but that it was in the U.S. national interests to waive the sanctions, the agency said.
Russia and Germany argue that the $11 billion pipeline, which is nearly complete, is mainly a commercial project. Supporters also say the U.S. opposition is grounded in its interest in selling more of its own liquefied gas to Europe.
Washington has already imposed sanctions on a Russian company, KVT-RUS, which operates the pipe-laying vessel Fortuna.
That measure was announced by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump shortly before the end of his term in January.
With reporting by Reuters, Axios, TASS, dpa, Interfax, and AP
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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