WASHINGTON — The US and Germany struck an agreement on Wednesday that would allow the contentious Russian gas pipeline to be completed in Europe without further US penalties. The deal seeks to alleviate concerns about Europe’s reliance on Russian energy, but it was quickly slammed by opponents who claimed it didn’t go far enough.
The US and Germany agreed to fight any attempt by Russia to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a political weapon under the provisions of the agreement. They also agreed to fund alternative energy and economic initiatives in Ukraine and Poland, which are both bypassed by the project and fear Russia’s ambitions.
“The United States and Germany are united in their commitment to hold Russia accountable for its aggression and harmful actions by exacting costs through sanctions and other measures,” they said in a joint statement that addressed both Nord Stream 2 and Russia’s backing for rebels in Ukraine.
“Should Russia seek to use energy as a weapon or engage in additional hostile activities against Ukraine, Germany will take national-level action and advocate for effective European-level measures, including sanctions, to limit Russian energy export capabilities to Europe,” it added.
The Nord Stream 2 project has presented the Biden administration with a serious foreign policy conundrum. Both Republican and Democratic leaders in the United States have long warned that it would give Russia too much control over the European gas supply. However, the pipeline is nearly complete, and the US is keen to repair ties with Germany that were strained during Trump’s presidency.
Poland and Ukraine expressed their dissatisfaction with the decision to allow the pipeline to be completed, claiming that measures to lessen the Russian security threat were insufficient.
In a joint statement, the Polish and Ukrainian foreign ministers said, “This decision has created a political, military, and energy threat for Ukraine and Central Europe, while increasing Russia’s potential to destabilize the security situation in Europe, perpetuating divisions among NATO and European Union member states.”
The deal isn’t a clear political triumph for either President Joe Biden or German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been an outspoken backer of the project and will leave office later this year. In September elections, Biden risks seeming weak on Russia, while Merkel’s ruling party faces a significant threat from Germany’s Green Party, which opposes the project.
Nonetheless, the two countries agreed to establish a $1 billion fund to help Ukraine diversify its energy sources, with Germany providing a $175 million seed grant. In addition, Germany promised to pay Ukraine for the gas transit costs it will lose as a result of Nord Stream 2 bypassing Ukraine until 2024, with a possible 10-year extension.
According to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Merkel on Wednesday about the prospect of extending an agreement on Russian gas transit via Ukraine beyond 2024.
In a gesture to Poland, Germany also agreed to join the EU-led “Three Seas Initiative,” a plan to improve investment, infrastructure development, and energy security among nations bordering the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas. According to the announcement, the German government would provide up to $1.7 billion in European Union financing to the program through 2027.
Despite the deal, substantial bipartisan opposition to the pipeline exists in Congress, as well as in Ukraine and Poland, and the Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has stated its opposition to the pipeline. Sanctions, according to US authorities, will not stop it.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Russia “would use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a weapon of coercion against Ukraine and transatlantic energy security as soon as it is operational.” Promises to invest in future Ukrainian energy projects, as well as vague threats of retaliation, will not change this fact.”
In a statement, Shaheen said, “I am not yet satisfied that this deal — or any bilateral arrangement — can adequately give guarantees to our European partners and mitigate the significant economic and security repercussions of this pipeline’s completion.”
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s third-ranking official categorically denied reports that Ukraine had been warned against publicly criticizing the agreement, and noted that the State Department’s counselor, Derek Chollet, was visiting both Kyiv and Warsaw this week to inform them of the agreement. On Wednesday, she informed legislators that the arrangement was the best approach to handle the problem.
The White House announced that Biden would welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Washington on Aug. 30 in another effort to appeal to Ukraine. Before Biden saw Putin in Geneva in June, an invitation for “later this summer” had been extended, but no date had been established until Wednesday.
The White House stated, “The visit will affirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security, and our support for President Zelenskyy’s efforts to combat corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values.”
Biden’s stance on Ukraine is likewise a touchy political issue. The attempt by former President Donald Trump to urge Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on Biden and his son resulted in Trump’s first impeachment. The Senate later found him not guilty and acquitted him.
For some time, Nord Stream 2 has been a source of heated controversy between US and German officials, and it was a significant topic of discussion at Biden’s meeting with Merkel last week. The pipeline, like the Trump administration before it, is seen as a threat to European energy security, and some of the individuals involved in its construction have been sanctioned.
The US remains opposed to the pipeline, according to Nuland, but Biden has waived sanctions on the German firm building it and its senior executives because the penalties would have been detrimental to the US’s larger interests.
She and others have defended the exemptions, claiming that they may be revoked at any moment, giving the US additional power. Officials in the Biden administration have stated repeatedly that the pipeline was a done deal by the time the president entered office. Pipeline opponents have dismissed this reasoning.