The United States and Germany say they have reached an agreement to allow the completion of the controversial Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 in Europe, which opponents say is powering Ukraine and other Eastern and Central European countries. weakens security.
The Biden administration is expected to face a strong push over the deal from Congress, which has twice passed sanctions legislation to halt the project with overwhelming bipartisan support.
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The move comes amid sharp criticism from congressional Republicans about the White House’s earlier announcement that it would exempt the Russian-owned operator of the pipeline from the new sanctions.
In a joint statement on July 21, the United States and Germany said they had agreed on a package of measures, including the possible implementation of sanctions against Russia, that would aim to minimize any impact on Ukraine’s budget and national security. . Kremlin supported project.
Nord Stream 2, consisting of two parallel pipelines 1,230 km each along the Baltic Sea, is designed to reroute Russian Arctic natural gas bound for Germany around Ukraine and Poland, potentially to Kiev. Depriving $2 billion in annual transit fees.
Critics also say the project undermines Ukraine’s national security, arguing that Russia could act more aggressively towards its smaller neighbor if it does not depend on the country for gas transit.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and incited fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Moscow-backed separatists in the east, killing more than 13,200 people.
Earlier this year, Russia gathered more than 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine in what US officials said was an act of intimidation.
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“Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or act more aggressively against Ukraine, Germany will act at the national level and push for effective measures, including sanctions, at the European level, so that the energy sector has to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe, including gas, and/or in other economically relevant regions,” the statement said.
Germany will appoint a special envoy to negotiate a 10-year extension of Russia’s existing transit agreement with Ukraine, which expires at the end of 2024, the statement said.
Nord Stream 2 will have the capacity to transport 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year to Germany, completely offsetting the current volume bound for Europe crossing Ukraine.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day to discuss the deal.
US lawmakers were quick to express their protest.
“Nord Stream 2 will strengthen Russia, undermine America’s national interest and threaten the security of Ukraine – a major US ally,” Senator Rob Portman (Republican-Ohio) said in a tweet.
Representative Marcy Kaptur (Democrat-Ohio) said a day earlier amid rumors of a US-German deal that “Congress should reject any deal that fails to protect the transatlantic security and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
A House of Representatives panel earlier this month passed an amendment seeking to curtail the Biden administration’s ability to waive restrictions on the project, which Congress calls mandatory.
This may not be the last effort, says Dan Vajdich, president of Yorktown Solutions, a Washington-based lobby firm that advises Ukraine’s energy industry.
“We are going to see more legislative initiatives from Capitol Hill aimed at preventing Nord Stream 2 from becoming operational despite this bilateral agreement between the Biden administration and an outgoing German government,” he told RFE/RL.
The Biden administration simultaneously announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would visit the White House on August 30 in his first official visit to the United States since taking power more than two years ago.
Biden, Ukraine’s Zelensky will meet in Washington on August 30
A White House meeting on August 30 will allow Biden to declare “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” in the Donbass and Crimea regions.
Congress will be in recess until early September, potentially denying Zelensky the opportunity to meet lawmakers opposing Nord Stream 2.
Zelensky last month expressed frustration with the Biden administration after issuing two sanction waivers in May, which essentially opened the door for Russia to complete the project.
The Ukrainian president said at the time that it could “undermine the trust” Ukrainians feel in the US.
Following a July 21 joint statement, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba said that Kiev had officially started consultations with the European Commission and Germany, claiming that Nord Stream 2 violates the bloc’s energy-diversification principle. is.
State Department Councilor Derek Cholet told the Ukrainian service of the RFE/RL during a visit to Kiev on 21 July that the Biden administration had decided to cut a deal with Germany, not to pursue more sanctions because it had to There were fears that the project would be completed anyway.
If that were the case, “nothing would have happened to Ukraine and its energy security, and perhaps worse, a transatlantic alliance in partnership with Ukraine that was in turmoil,” Cholet said.
“And so we’ve tried to avoid that scenario, working with German friends to make sure that a clear message is sent to Russia about its expectations of its behavior, that energy is not used as a weapon.” Can’t be done and give clear results if they were. Use energy as a weapon,” Cholet said.
The US-German deal also calls for the creation of a $1 billion “green fund” to support both Ukraine and Poland’s energy industry and security. Poland is also a bypass from the pipeline project. Germany will establish and administer the fund and will contribute $175 million immediately.
The fund will seek to promote the use of renewable energy in Ukraine, facilitate the development of hydrogen, increase energy efficiency and accelerate the transition from coal.
Ukraine currently imports about a third of its natural gas needs, even though it has significant reserves.
Energy industry experts say Ukraine could significantly cut its import needs through improved efficiency, along with more natural-gas and green-energy production.