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US, Germany strike Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal to push back on Russia

Workers at the construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad Region, Russia, June 5, 2019.
Image Credit: Reuters

Washington: The United States and Germany on Wednesday unveiled an agreement on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that pledged Berlin to respond to any Russian attempts to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine and other Central and Eastern European countries.

The pact aims to mitigate what critics see as a strategic threat to the $ 11 billion pipeline, now 98 percent complete, and being built across the Baltic Sea to transport gas from Russia’s Arctic region to Germany.

US officials have opposed the construction of a pipeline that would allow Russia to export gas directly to Germany and potentially cut off other countries, but the administration of President Joe Biden chose not to try to destroy it with US sanctions.

Instead, he struck a pact with Germany that threatens to impose costs on Russia if it tries to use the pipeline to harm Ukraine or other countries in the region.

But the measures appear to have done little to allay fears in Ukraine, which has said it is asking for talks with both the European Union and Germany over the pipeline. The agreement also faces political opposition in the US and Germany.

In a joint statement detailing the deal, Washington and Berlin are “united in their efforts to hold Russia accountable for its aggression and malice by imposing costs through sanctions and other instruments.”

If Russia tries to “use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive actions against Ukraine”, Germany will take its own steps and insist on actions in the EU, including sanctions, “to limit Russia’s export opportunities to Europe in the energy sector.” “The statement says.

It does not provide details on specific actions by Russia that could provoke such a move. “We have decided not to provide Russia with a roadmap on how they can evade this commitment to fight back,” a senior State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“We will also certainly strive to hold any future German governments accountable for their commitments,” the official said.

According to the agreement, Germany “will use all available leverage” to extend by 10 years the gas transit agreement between Russia and Ukraine, which is the main source of income for Ukraine, which expires in 2024.

Germany will also contribute at least $ 175 million to a new $ 1 billion Green Fund for Ukraine aimed at boosting the country’s energy independence.

‘Threatens Ukraine’s security’

Ukraine has sent notes to Brussels and Berlin calling for consultations, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter, adding that the pipeline “threatens Ukraine’s security.” Kuleba also issued a statement with Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, in which he promised to work together against Nord Stream 2.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he is looking forward to “frank and flamboyant” discussions with Biden on the pipeline when they meet in Washington next month. The White House announced the visit on Wednesday, but spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the timing of the announcement was not related to the pipeline agreement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin hours before the agreement was published, the German government said, saying Nord Stream 2 and gas transit through Ukraine were among the topics.

The pipeline has loomed over US-German relations since former President Donald Trump said he could turn Germany “hostage to Russia” and approved some sanctions.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter that he was “glad we found a constructive solution.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was asked about the details of the agreement announced earlier Wednesday, said any threat of sanctions against Russia was “unacceptable,” Interfax reported.

Legislative opposition

Even before it was made public, leaked details of the agreement drew criticism from German and US lawmakers.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who withheld Biden’s ambassadors over his concerns about Nord Stream 2, said the reported deal would be “a geopolitical victory for Putin for generations and a disaster for the United States and ours. allies “.

According to congressional aides, Cruz and several other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are furious that the Democratic president has waived congressional sanctions on the pipeline and are working on ways to force the administration to approve sanctions.

Democrat Senator Zhanna Shahin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said she was not confident the deal would soften the impact of the pipeline, which she said “enables the Kremlin to extend its pernicious influence throughout Eastern Europe.” “I am skeptical that this will be enough when the key player at the table – Russia – refuses to play by the rules,” Shahin said.

In Germany, senior members of the environmentalist green party called the deal a “bitter failure on climate change” that would benefit Putin and weaken Ukraine.

Biden administration officials insist the pipeline was so close to completion when they took office in January that they had no way of stopping completion.

“Of course, we think the previous administration could have done more,” the US official said. “But, you know, we tried our best.”

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