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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Central Europe pleads for Biden to halt Russia-Germany gas pipeline

President Biden’s new signal that he will not impose stiff sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany has dismayed Central European officials, drawing a public appeal from officials who fear the growth of Moscow’s power.

“We call on U.S. President Joe Biden to use all means at his disposal to prevent the project from completion,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau wrote Monday in a joint Politico op-ed. “The West, led by the United States, cannot afford to cower in the face of blackmail that runs counter to everything that we stand for.”

Officials in former Soviet vassal states fear the project will give Moscow leverage over Berlin while empowering Putin to cut gas supplies to Ukraine without affecting other Western European powers. Russia hawks in the U.S. share that view, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel backs the project as Biden tries to end the acrimony that characterized U.S.-German relations during Donald Trump’s presidency.

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“The transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden assured European leaders at the Munich Security Conference last week. “So let me erase any lingering doubt: The United States will work closely with our European Union partners and the capitals across the continent, from Rome to Riga, to meet the range of shared challenges we face.”

THE INTERPRETER

The same day he delivered that message, State Department officials filed a report to Congress that soft-pedaled a federal law mandating the imposition of sanctions on entities involved in the construction of the pipeline, which will route Russian natural gas directly to Germany through the Baltic Sea. The State Department’s report was required under a law designed to generate a list of entities to sanction, but pipeline opponents in Congress faulted Biden’s team for declining to impose the penalties envisaged by lawmakers.

“Congress has passed multiple bipartisan laws regarding this project, and specifically broadened the mandatory sanctions to include the types of pipe-laying activities occurring right now,” Idaho Sen. James Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday evening. “The administration’s decision to ignore these activities demands an immediate explanation.”

German officials may look favorably on the State Department’s decision, but Baltic state allies in Riga, Vilnius, and Talinn, the respective capitals of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, want Biden to take their side in the dispute against Germany. “We must go further and cancel [Nord Stream 2],” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Twitter in October.

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A convocation of top diplomats from countries within the EU agreed Monday to draft new sanctions to punish Russia’s abuse of dissident opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but EU heavyweights have been hesitant about opening a new major confrontation with Russia.

“I am in favor of ordering the preparation of additional sanctions, of listings of specific persons,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Monday. “At the same time, we need to talk about how to keep up a constructive dialogue with Russia, even as relations certainly have reached a low.”



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