Lawmakers want update on sanctions against Russian gas pipeline

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers is asking the Biden administration to provide an update on when it intends to enforce sanctions against a controversial Russian natural gas pipeline in Europe after officials missed a deadline to inform Congress about their plans.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, two Republicans and two Democrats requested that the State Department brief Congress about how it is approaching the Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline, known as Nord Stream 2.

The letter signals impatience on Capitol Hill with the administration over the pipeline amid reports that companies have resumed work on the project in apparent breach of the U.S. sanctions.

Under legislation adopted in January over former President Donald Trump’s veto, the administration was required to report to Congress by Tuesday about which companies involved in the pipeline project should be subject to sanctions. But Congress did not receive the mandatory report.

The letter, signed by Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., asks the administration to explain the status of the report.

When asked about the pending report to Congress, the State Department said it does not discuss its communications with Congress.

Washington and Berlin have been at loggerheads over the pipeline for years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted that it is a purely commercial matter that should not be subject to geopolitics or tied to human rights concerns.

Nord Stream 2 would double the shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany, providing German industry with inexpensive energy as the country moves from coal and nuclear energy to renewable sources.

But opponents of the pipeline, including U.S. lawmakers from both parties, as well as governments in Central and Eastern Europe, say the pipeline would leave Europe beholden to Russian energy supplies and economic pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If completed, Nord Stream 2 would enable the Putin regime to further weaponize Russia’s energy resources to exert political pressure throughout Europe,” the lawmakers wrote.

Germany has rejected criticism of the project and appealed to successive U.S. administrations to hold off on enforcing sanctions.

German media, citing leaked documents published by an environmental nonprofit, reported recently that the German government last year offered massive funding for the import of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. in return for Washington’s allowing the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The Trump administration ultimately did not support the offer.

The proposal was reported to have been made by German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz to former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, according to the documents posted by Environmental Action Germany.

In an apparent reference to Germany, the U.S. lawmakers in their letter also asked the administration for information about “any proposals offered to the Biden Administration on the future of the pipeline that aim to persuade the Administration to forego or weaken the mandatory sanctions, which have bipartisan support in Congress.”

The lawmakers said they “stand at the ready to work with you to counter Russian malign influence, including by ensuring Nord Stream 2 is never completed as intended by the Congressionally mandated sanctions aimed at stopping the pipeline.”

Dan De Luce

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. 

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