The Biden administration’s grant of a sanctions waiver for an energy project linked to Russian leader Vladimir Putin drew bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill.
Lawmakers are concerned that a mandatory State Department report to Congress on Wednesday, obtained by the Washington Examiner, includes a provision waiving sanctions on the Kremlin-backed corporate entity and CEO overseeing the construction of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Germany.
Under both former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump, the United States opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, designed to carry Russian natural gas to Europe under the Baltic Sea. The pipeline would bypass Ukraine, denying that U.S. partner the money it would make helping transport the energy itself, as the Kremlin attempts to squeeze Ukraine and gain influence in Europe.
Critics of the Russian pipeline project see it as a malign foreign influence operation by the Kremlin. Sanctions that the Trump administration placed on the Russian pipeline, which is nearly finished, forced construction to grind to a halt before completion.
The State Department report, due every 90 days, calls for sanctions against a handful of Russian ships. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, “I have determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, its CEO Matthias Warnig, and Nord Stream 2 AG’s corporate officers.”
Warnig, CEO of Nord Stream 2, is a former member of the Stasi, the secret police for Soviet-controlled East Germany. He is listed as a deputy chairman of the board of directors of Russian state-controlled Rosneft energy company, and is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Also granted U.S. sanctions waivers on Tuesday were Chief Financial Officer Paul Corcoran, chief protect officer Marco Casirati, chief commercial officer Reinhard Ontyd, and chief technical officer Pavel Persidskii.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, criticized this move.
“The administration has said that the pipeline is a bad idea and that it is a Russian malign influence project,” Menendez said. “I share that sentiment, but fail to see how today’s decision will advance U.S. efforts to counter Russian aggression in Europe.”
Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the top Senate Foreign Relations Committee Republican, was even harsher.
The waiver “is a gift to Putin that will only weaken the United States’ leverage in the lead up to the impending Biden-Putin summit,” Risch said. “It is deeply disturbing that this administration canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline on its first day, killing thousands of U.S. and Canadian jobs. Yet, it continues to support Russian workers involved in a project that goes against U.S. and European security interests.”
The State Department report issued Wednesday suggests the Biden administration doesn’t want to get crosswise with ally Germany over the pipeline.
“The German government remains fully committed to the Nord Stream 2 project, insisting it is both a necessary and commercial undertaking and rejecting U.S. sanctions as an intervention in its internal affairs,” the State Department said. “The EU and many of its member states continue to oppose U.S. sanctions related to Nord Stream 2, viewing them as a violation of German and EU sovereignty.”
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The State Department claimed that imposing sanctions on Warnig and others “would negatively impact U.S. relations with Germany, the EU, and other European allies and partners.” The report added: “Close cooperation with Germany, the EU, and other European allies and partners will also be critical in the success of U.S. efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic; fight climate change; promote a sustainable economic recovery; defend our democracies against authoritarianism; counter malign behavior by Russia and China; and address other global challenges such as Iran.”
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican, blasted that rationale
“The completion of this pipeline will threaten Ukraine’s security, deepen Europe’s dangerous energy dependence on the Kremlin and further enrich the corrupt Putin regime,” McCaul said.