August 3, 2021

“Catastrophe”: Republicans rage over Merkel’s deal on Nord Stream 2

AAfter giving the green light to the completion of Nord Stream 2, the US government is walking a fine line: Washington argues that the controversial gas pipeline project is a “bad deal” for Ukraine and the rest of Europe.

The small, subtle difference to the previous attitude: You act “pragmatically”, and since the construction is almost complete, it is a matter of getting the best out of the Ukraine. It was in this spirit that an understanding was reached with Berlin. Conclusion: Berlin and Washington have not settled their long-standing dispute, nor have the fundamental differences of opinion out of the way. You defused your transatlantic squabbles on your own.

The government of President Joe Biden speaks of “significant differences of opinion” when looking at Nord Stream 2, and speaks of clear opposition to the 1200-kilometer-long pipe project that is to carry gas from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Lubmin near Greifswald. But when Biden moved into the White House six months ago, 90 percent of the German-Russian pipeline had already been completed, argues Washington. Biden’s people are trying to pass the buck to ex-President Donald Trump. Although he had verbally attacked Nord Stream 2, he was unable to do much about the building. In addition, companies and ships that are involved in the construction have been sanctioned, according to the US government.

Help for Ukraine instead of ending the project

So now it’s about damage control. The German-American agreements are intended to help prevent Ukraine from falling victim to the pipeline. Berlin and Washington want to pump money into Ukraine, for example for alternative energies, but above all for greater energy independence from archenemy Russia. A “Green Fund for Ukraine” has been agreed, with at least one billion dollars available for investments. Berlin initially pays in 148 million euros.

The agreement provides for sanctions against Russia in the event that Moscow “uses energy as a weapon,” as top US diplomat Victoria Nuland said at a hearing in the Senate. This also applies in general to “aggressive behavior towards Ukraine”. Berlin undertakes to take measures against Moscow in such cases and to work towards sanctions at EU level. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had already promised it last week during a visit to Biden in the White House.

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Compromise on Nord Stream 2

The Biden government on Wednesday denied allegations that it had pressured Ukraine. Ukraine is a partner and partners are not put under pressure, said a government official. Rather, everything is being done to ensure that Moscow is not in a position to use its energy supplies as a weapon against Ukraine.

Just as news of the Berlin-Washington settlement was making the rounds, the White House was handing out diplomatic carrots. As a token of support for Kiev, it announced that Biden would receive Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi on August 30th. It sounded a bit troubled when the government claimed this announcement was unrelated to the Nord Stream deal.

The pipeline project will be completed, is the expectation management of the US government. When asked for a prognosis about the further course of time, Washington refers to the federal government in Berlin. The operating company of Nord Stream 2 is expecting commissioning this year and even states that construction progress is 98 percent.

The agreement reached is better than having achieved the completion of the gas pipeline without aid to Ukraine, argues Washington. The protection of the partner Ukraine has the highest priority. Together with Germany, they want to prevent Russia’s attempts to use the energy supply as a geopolitical weapon. In addition, one continues to campaign with Berlin against the Russian aggression against the Ukraine. Washington is convinced that this is where the future federal government to be formed in Germany after the election will seamlessly tie in. Both countries, Germany and the USA, are important donors for Ukraine.

For Merkel, the deal is a parting gift, for Biden it is a delicate one

Washington is currently trying to dispel this impression that the German-American unification is a veritable farewell present from Biden to Chancellor Merkel and a nice present for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden and Merkel had deliberately refrained from announcing their long-standing agreement during their joint appearance in the White House. Merkel knows: The agreement is not for her, but for Biden it is sensitive. Both sides tried to avoid a focus on Nord Stream 2 during Merkel’s farewell trip.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden in Washington - the visit probably went differently than expected

While Merkel is in the late autumn of her political life, Biden has just completed an eighth of his term in office. But above all: Biden now has to convince the extremely Russia-critical congress of the sense of his agreement with Berlin. It will be hard work.

Democrats and Republicans alike reject Nord Stream 2. In recent years, especially given Trump’s cuddling with Putin, the Democrats have been far more critical of the Kremlin than the Grand Old Party. The Republicans are currently blocking various Senate personnel nominations in order to put pressure on the Biden administration.

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After the presidency

So it is hardly surprising that leading Republicans in Congress have massively criticized the agreement with Germany to complete Nord Stream 2 – even before the declaration became known. Senator Jim Risch, President of the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a press release: “Not a single member of Congress supports the completion of this pipeline.”

The agreement is “full of promises and assurances” but offers few opportunities to address the main national security threats posed by Nord Stream 2. Risch pointed out that the possible early agreement had been negotiated “without the participation and approval of important allies such as Ukraine and Poland”. The senator asked the Biden administration to explain why they are not imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2. “Congress must act where the government has failed,” wrote Risch.

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Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin

Republican senator and foreign policy official Ted Cruz spoke of a “geopolitical victory for Putin and a catastrophe for the United States and our allies.” President Biden disregards American law and “completely surrendered to Putin”. Cruz wrote on Twitter that for four years the left-wing television broadcaster CNN had shouted “Russia, Russia, Russia!” And now “they are defending Biden’s total surrender to Putin on Nord Stream 2”.

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Democratic politicians initially avoided criticism of the agreement with Berlin. But US senators are known to give little to party discipline and, if in doubt, to make life difficult for their “own” president.

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