US Republican Senator Ted Cruz has turned up the heat over a perceived lack of action from President Joe Biden’s administration in imposing new sanctions against vessels and contractors helping Russian gas monopoly Gazprom complete its Nord Stream 2 subsea gas export pipeline project to Germany.
The project is highly contentious, with the US among the governments that believe it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian gas at a time when the US and European Union are reviewing sanctions against the Kremlin following its clampdown on opposition figures, in particular Alexei Navalny.
In a 5 March letter, five Republican lawmakers, including Cruz, urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to submit new sanctions designations to Congress without waiting until 17 May when the next mandatory report on Nord Stream 2 is due to be presented.
The five lawmakers asked the administration to directly sanction operator Nord Stream 2 — incorporated in Switzerland — together with the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping as the inspection and certification service provider, and a Russian insurance firm.
In the letter, the lawmakers listed 15 vessels — including Russian-owned pipelayer Akademik Chersky — as immediate candidates for sanctions against their owners.
On Monday, Cruz revealed that he placed a hold on Biden's nomination of former US ambassador to Russia, William Burns, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, in an apparent attempt to compel the administration to come up with concrete proposals to Congress on Nord Stream 2.
US contacts with Germany
“If the Biden administration agrees to a deal with Germany that trades away Congressional sanctions in exchange for a vague commitment to ensure Ukrainian gas transit or a promise to invest in European energy infrastructure, it would not only undermine US and European security interests, but also represent an affront to Congress’ constitutional prerogatives,” the 5 March letter said.
“It would be extremely concerning if our other European allies and partners were not consulted on US negotiations with Berlin on the pipeline, given that the majority of Europe continues to oppose the completion of this Russian malign influence project,” it added, referring to earlier suggestions of diplomatic contacts between the US and Germany on the project.
Last week, Nord Stream 2 said in a notice to the Danish Maritime Authority that the Chersky is expected to resume construction of the second leg of the pipeline in Danish waters, aiming to complete the work before the end of September.
Scepticism in Moscow
However, a partner of Moscow-based consultancy Rusenergy, Mikhail Krutikhin, said that even if the US delays new sanctions, the remaining offshore segments of Nord Stream 2 in Denmark and Germany are unlikely to be completed before the end of this year, citing perceived issues with a vessel.
Krutikhin said that, even if the offshore legs of the pipeline are built, Nord Stream 2 may face issues certifying that these segments of the project are safe to operate.