GOP says Biden admin actions on Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline don't go far enough

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Republicans blasted a Friday night State Department report on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 Pipeline, pointing out the two sanction designations by the Biden administration had already been announced by the Trump administration and arguing the U.S. actions did not push back forcefully enough on the Kremlin project.

The State Department submitted a report to Congress announcing that a Russian ship, the Fortuna, and the Russian company that owns it, KVT-RUS, had been designated by the United States in a move toward the imposition of sanctions. In Trump’s last full day in office, though, the United States had announced sanctions on the same Russian ship and Russian company through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

Under both former President Barack Obama and former President Donald Trump, the United States opposed the 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 seen 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.

“Simply put, today’s sanctions designations are wholly inadequate. Congressional intent is clear and cannot be ignored: the mandatory authorities passed with bipartisan support in the last two NDAAs are meant to stop the completion of the malign Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Period. Sanctioning only the Russian pipe-laying vessel Fortuna and its owner, KVT-RUS – which were both already sanctioned by the previous Administration under separate authorities – does not meet that intent,” Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on House Foreign Affairs, said in a blistering statement on Friday. “Allowing this pipeline to be completed would be nothing short of a victory for Vladimir Putin. Therefore, we expect a briefing from the State Department as soon as possible to discuss when the Biden Administration plans to take further action against additional Russian entities currently engaged in sanctionable activity as is required by law.”

McCaul’s office argued that the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act and Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act “authorized mandatory sanctions on vessels engaged in pipelaying and pipelaying activities, and companies that provide support services or facilities for those vessels, and those that provide insurance, reinsurance or pipeline testing, inspection, or certification services.”

His office said that “the report submitted by the Biden Administration today disingenuously takes credit for the decision of 18 entities, which were previously engaged in the pipeline project, to wind down their activities” and said credit belonged to the Trump administration for its outreach to stop the work on the Russian pipeline.

The Texas Republican teamed up with fellow Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Marcy Kaptur of Ohio in a Wednesday letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken to request a briefing on the Russian project, and asking for an “assessment of possible sanctionable activity” on 15 different vessels they believed had assisted with the Russian pipeline construction.

During his confirmation hearing the day before Biden’s inauguration, Blinken testified that Biden “strongly agrees with you that Nord Stream 2 is a bad idea and he has been very clear about that.”

The now-secretary of state said that “I am determined to do whatever we can to prevent that completion, the last hundred yards, I very much agree” and said Biden “would have us use every persuasive tool that we have to convince our friends and partners, including Germany, not to move forward with it.”

Biden press secretary Jen Psaki echoed this on Tuesday, saying, “Our position on Nord Stream 2 has been very clear, and it remains unchanged. President Biden has made clear that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It’s a bad deal because it divides Europe, it exposes Ukraine and Central Europe to Russia — Russian manipulation, and because it goes against Europe’s own stated energy and security goals.”

Biden had tough words for Russia during a Friday in a virtual speech before the Munich Security Conference.

“The Kremlin attacks our democracies and weaponizes corruption to try to undermine our system of governance. Russian leaders want people to think that our system is more corrupt or as corrupt as theirs. But the world knows that isn’t true, including Russians — Russia’s own citizens,” Biden said. “Putin seeks to weaken European — the European project and our NATO Alliance. He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity and our resolve, because it’s so much easier for the Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states than it is to negotiate with a strong and closely united transatlantic community.” The Russian pipeline was not mentioned.

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Republican Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Friday night that “I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the State Department’s report on Nord Stream 2 activities and their decision to forgo additional sanctions on other entities involved in its construction.” He said that the Biden administration seemed to be taking credit for progress made during and sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, and said that “this report fails to clarify what additional steps the Biden Administration has taken to fully implement the law and end this project.”

“We know pipeline construction is currently underway in the Baltic Sea. Maritime tracking information makes it clear that ships not covered in today’s report are currently active in supporting Nord Stream 2 construction,” Risch said, adding that “this report is a gift to the Russians and their ongoing efforts to undermine European energy security, destabilize Ukraine, and facilitate corruption and malign influence throughout Europe.”

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