US spares ally Germany in sanctions for Nord Stream pipeline

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attends a news conference on a 'White Paper on Multilateralism' in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Michele Tantussi/Pool via AP)
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas attends a news conference on a 'White Paper on Multilateralism' in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Michele Tantussi/Pool via AP)

BERLIN – The Biden administration imposed sanctions Wednesday on Russian companies and ships for their work on a European natural gas pipeline adamantly opposed by the U.S., but President Joe Biden angered many Democratic and Republican lawmakers by opting not to punish the German company overseeing the project.

Waiving penalties regarding ally German in the Nord Stream 2 project was “in line with our commitment to strengthen our Transatlantic relationships as a matter of national security,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The U.S. has battled for years to block the pipeline, now 95% complete, though construction has not yet started on its German leg. The pipeline will carry natural gas from Russia to Germany, increasing Russia's leverage as a vital energy supplier in Europe. The U.S. argues that the pipeline threatens European energy security, heightens Russia's influence and poses risks to Ukraine and Poland in bypassing both countries.

Critics of the pipeline had hoped to stop it by targeting the German company and its top executive.

Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he opposed Biden’s waiver for Germany. Senior committee member Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said the pipeline “allows Russia to further spread its malign influence."

“Oh, my God, enable Russia!” Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, exclaimed at the decision. “Joe Biden, thank you so much for allowing Russia to export their goods,” she said, sarcastically.

Blinken said the Biden administration would continue to fight the pipeline. “Our opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is unwavering,” he said.

Biden's administration has emphasized strengthening alliances internationally to deal with foreign policy challenges. U.S. relations with Germany were unsettled by President Donald Trump's frequent affronts to Germany and other European allies and Trump's enthusiasm for Russian President Vladimir Putin.