WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Friday added a layer of sanctions to a Russian vessel and the shipowner for their work on a new gas pipeline from Russia that is strongly opposed in the U.S. and eastern Europe.
But the move was immediately criticized as inadequate by senior Republican lawmakers who noted the administration had not penalized any additional companies or individuals for work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. They also said the new sanctions were redundant as they duplicate existing penalties that the Trump administration had imposed on the pipelaying ship Fortuna and its owner KVT-RUS in January.
The sanctions were announced in a report submitted to Congress by the State Department late Friday night, three days after a Feb. 16 deadline for its delivery had passed. Congressional aides expressed surprise that the word “Russia” did not appear in the report except in its title and that it did not discuss in detail any consultations with U.S. partners and allies that would be affected.
Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration is opposed to the pipeline because it believes it will harm European energy security, particularly for countries in eastern and central Europe like Ukraine and Poland, which the pipeline bypasses. U.S. officials have long said they fear Russia will use the pipeline as a political tool against its neighbors.
“We’ve been clear for some time that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal and that companies risk sanctions if they are involved,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters just hours before the report was transmitted to Congress.
“We’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure that Europe has a reliable, diversified energy supply network that doesn’t undermine our collective security. Our goal in all of this is to reinforce European energy security and safeguard against predatory behavior,” he said.
However, congressional Republicans were unimpressed and denounced the administration for failing to impose any sanctions on additional targets, notably people and firms in Germany, which is a strong Nord Stream 2 proponent. Administration officials have pointed to their relatively short time in office thus far and said they want to review all options before imposing new sanctions.
Still, the top GOP members on the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Michael McCaul, demanded explanations as to what exactly the administration is doing to oppose the completion of the pipeline.
“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," Risch said. “Congress has passed multiple bipartisan laws regarding this project, and specifically broadened the mandatory sanctions to include the types of pipe-laying activities occurring right now. The administration’s decision to ignore these activities demands an immediate explanation.”
“Simply put, today’s sanctions designations are wholly inadequate," said McCaul, who added that simply adding a layer of sanctions to previously penalized targets does not meet lawmakers' intent to stop the pipeline. “Allowing this pipeline to be completed would be nothing short of a victory for Vladimir Putin.”
Republican concern about the administration's actions will likely be echoed by some Democrats. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire has co-sponsored legislation opposing the pipeline with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and has been outspoken in her criticism of Nord Stream 2.
Opposition to the pipeline and its potential impact on Europe has increased since the poisoning and arrest of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny and the crackdown against demonstrators protesting in his support.