Thursday

23rd Sep 2021

Biden gives green light for Russia-Germany pipeline

  • Russian state energy firm Gazprom owns the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (Photo: Mitya Aleshkovsky)

The US has partly lifted sanctions on a controversial gas pipeline in a bid to mend relations with Germany and Russia.

The Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 consortium, based in Switzerland, and its CEO, a German executive called Matthias Warnig, were taken off the US blacklist because, "citing US national security interests, the Biden administration announced it would waive" the measures, the state department told Congress on Wednesday (19 May).

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"Today's actions demonstrate the administration's commitment to energy security in Europe, consistent with the president's [Joe Biden's] pledge to rebuild relationships with our allies and partners in Europe," secretary of state Antony Blinken also said in a statement.

Wednesday's decision still left other US sanctions on Nord Stream 2 in place and added new ones on four Russian ships and five Russian entities involved in the project.

But it was widely seen as a green light for Nord Stream 2 completion by both its enemies and its friends.

Biden's waiver was "a gift to [Russian president Vladimir] Putin", senior Republican senator Michael McCaul said.

"Oh, my God, enable Russia!", Joni Ernst, another Republican senator, said.

The German foreign ministry welcomed the US announcement.

"We understand the decisions ... as taking into account the really extraordinarily good relationship that have been built with the Biden administration," German foreign minister Heiko Maas said in Berlin.

"It's an expression of the fact Germany is an important partner for the US, one it can count on in the future," he said.

Moscow also welcomed it. "It's better than reading announcements of new sanctions. It would certainly be positive", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

It was "a chance for a gradual transition toward the normalisation of our bilateral ties", Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov added.

The news came the same day Blinken met Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Reykjavík.

It also came amid plans for a Biden-Putin summit in Europe in summer.

America wanted "a predictable, stable relationship with Russia", Blinken said in Iceland.

"It's also no secret that we have our differences and when it comes to those differences, as president Biden has also shared with president Putin, if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, and our allies, we'll respond," he added.

He also criticised Russia's recent military build-up against Ukraine and in the Arctic.

"We are ready to discuss all the issues ... on the basis of mutual respect," Lavrov said.

"It has long been common knowledge that this is our territory, our land. We are in charge of keeping the Arctic coast safe. Everything Russia is doing there is absolutely legal," the Russian minister added.

Nord Stream 2, when built, will let Russia export 80 percent of its gas to Europe via Germany, enabling it to cut off energy supplies to Poland and Ukraine in the event of a conflict.

The fact Warnig was a senior spy in the former East Germany's Stasi security service and knows Putin well is an added thorn in the side of Russia-wary EU governments in eastern and Nordic member states.

Biden's gambit comes amid a low point in EU-Russia relations, after tit-for-tat new sanctions and diplomatic expulsions in other disputes.

And the German Green Party, which is leading in polls ahead of German elections in September, has pledged to mothball Nord Stream 2 if it gets into power, in a final obstacle to the project.

But a US official told the Reuters news agency: "We inherited a pipeline that was over 90 percent complete and so stopping it has always been a long shot".

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