The German government believed in the summer that it had achieved its goal. Before Chancellor Angela Merkel resigns, the dispute over the commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline should be settled. Shortly after the Chancellor’s visit to Washington, an agreement was announced with the Biden administration: The German government promised to secure gas transit through Ukraine beyond 2024. Germany promised to impose sanctions if necessary, should Moscow use its gas as a weapon. In addition, Berlin and Washington announced in a joint declaration on European energy security that they would support investments in a green fund for Ukraine.
The German-American declaration was the consideration that Washington had wrested from Berlin for waiving further sanctions despite Joe Biden’s ongoing concerns about the pipeline – specifically: the application of punitive measures against Nord Stream 2 AG and its German managing director, Putin -Trusted Matthias Warnig.
The American President had decided this out of consideration for the German ally – on the recommendation of his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who had negotiated with the Chancellery. In the Senate, however, a group of Republicans want to deprive the president of the possibility of granting exceptions to statutory sanctions. A vote could take place this week.
It’s not just hardliners who want to overturn the agreement
Specifically, it is about the annual budget law for the defense budget, which the House of Representatives has already approved. A group around Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman in the Foreign Affairs Committee, wants to add a passage to the draft. This would deprive the White House of the scope for exceptions – and thus the basis for the agreement with Germany. The group includes not only hardliners like Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has been using the pipeline dispute for months to block the confirmation of Biden’s ambassadorial candidates, but also moderate Republicans like Rob Portman, the outgoing Senator from Ohio.
The rejection of the pipeline project is one of the few questions on which there is unanimous agreement in the Senate. Biden’s deal with Merkel also met with criticism in the Democratic camp in the summer. Several senators, including Tim Kaine from Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire and also Bob Menendez from New Jersey, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, raised serious concerns. Menendez even called the agreement “another tool” with which Russia could blackmail Ukraine. Given the tight majority, there is a risk that the Republicans’ motion will win a majority.
For weeks, the State Department has been trying to process the senators and not approve the motion. Since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aware of the position of the Democratic Group, the argument is more fundamental: the passage of the President’s ability to grant exceptions in the national interest could set a precedent. The government should also argue that now that Moscow has moved troops to the Ukrainian border, it is of great importance not to turn the ally in Berlin against itself.
In fact, it is precisely this development that the Republicans use as an argument against the deal with Merkel. Of course, the German side points out that the Russian side is adhering to agreements relating to Nord Stream 2, including the gas transit through Ukraine, regardless of Vladimir Putin’s other activities.
The German embassy has meanwhile also become active. The news portal Axios reports on a “non-paper” that is circulating in the Capitol, with which the German side is promoting the agreement of July: Sanctions against an American ally represent a victory for Putin, it says. They would undermine the commitments that Berlin made in the agreement, weaken the credibility of the American government and ultimately damage the transatlantic common ground. In addition, it is said: Nord Stream 2 does not lead to German Russia policy relying on the quiet.
In the classified “non-paper” it is formulated what concrete consequences it would have under the German-American agreement if Moscow uses its gas as a weapon or takes other aggressive steps against Ukraine. In addition to public pressure and political steps, such as the suspension of bilateral meetings, the focus is on economic measures: Mention is made of support for the Ukrainian gas supply by ensuring the “reverse flow” from west to east. In addition, possible limits for state export credit guarantees in the Russian energy sector are being examined together with the EU and the United States. Finally, consideration would also be given to suspending investment guarantees for future projects in the Russian energy sector.