Russian energy dominance of continental European NATO allies took a slight hit when US lawmakers made a belated attempt to derail Nord Stream 2, an undersea natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.
In a bipartisan move, the US House of Representatives sanctioned the Nord Stream 2 project this week, citing concerns about European energy security.
Nord Steam 2 will replace Ukraine as Russia’s gateway to Europe with Germany. The sanctions passed the House as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the House this week.
The project is 80 percent complete, and relies on Western firms with technology capable of building deep sea pipelines. The bill will revoke US visas and block property of individuals and companies constructing Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream, a companion pipeline through Turkey.
Moscow uses energy as an instrument of political and economic warfare, and as a source of hard currency for Putin’s deteriorating regime. The Kremlin abruptly stopped the gas supply to Ukraine in 2006 and 2009, demanding price increases and other concessions.
Existing pipeline through Ukraine provide Kiev with toll revenue and leverage in negotiations with Moscow over the war in the Donbas and other sovereignty issues. Ukraine and Russia are currently at an impasse over future Russian gas transport through Ukrainian pipelines, which Moscow needs until Nord Stream 2 is done. The current contract expires at the end of 2019. Russia wants a one-year agreement while Kiev is pushing for a long-term contract.
Ukraine has also been concerned that the German embrace of Russian resources will weaken the EU’s already mild stance against Kremlin aggression. Germany has played a central role in diplomatic efforts between Kyiv and Moscow since 2014, and is currently in favor of “an ‘accommodation’ with Moscow,” according to Leon Aron and Lance Kokonos.
“The provision sends an unmistakable, bipartisan message from Congress to Vladimir Putin that the United States will not sit idly by while the Kremlin seeks to further spread its malign influence,” Senator Shaheen (D-NH) said.
“The Nord Stream 2 project threatens Ukraine, Europe’s energy independence and gives Russia an opening to exploit our allies,” Shaheen continued.
U.S. sanctions, while unlikely to stop completion of Nord Stream 2, may provide Ukrainians with additional leverage at an opportune moment.