Biden backs down! US to halt sanctions over Germany-Russia deal in huge win for Merkel
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The Biden administration will waive sanctions on the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe and its chief executive, with the US State Department set to deliver a report as early as today.
The department’s review, required by Congress, concludes that Nord Stream 2 AG and CEO Matthias Warnig, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, engaged in sanctionable activity but that it was in the US national interest to waive the sanctions, a source told Reuters.
The source said the administration under Democratic President Joe Biden still opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but felt it was important to send a signal about its strategic commitment to rebuilding relations with Germany, which were badly damaged under former Republican President Donald Trump.
Russian officials on Wednesday signalled that the move could help mend Washington’s fraught ties with Moscow.
Republicans in Washington, however, criticised the reported waiver, which was first reported by Axios on Tuesday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas late on Tuesday, underscoring Washington’s continued opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline but also highlighting the need for the NATO allies to work together to counter Russia, the department said.
White House officials had no immediate comment.
A spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry said the German government had not seen the report but was in close touch with the Biden administration. Maas on Wednesday said a waiver would be a good sign.
A US State Department spokesperson on Tuesday said: “The Biden administration has been clear that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security and that of Ukraine and eastern flank NATO Allies and partners.”
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President Biden’s decision to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and its CEO removes one irritant in US-German ties, and US officials hope it provides some leverage to deepen cooperation on broader issues, including China and Russia.
German officials had pressed hard for such an outcome, arguing that the overall relationship was too important to sacrifice over what Berlin has described as a commercial project.
The decision will bring President Biden severe criticism from the Republican camp.
Top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said that if reports of the lack of sanctions were correct, it would reveal that the Democratic President had never wanted to prevent the pipeline.
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This was a “Russian project of malicious influence that threatens to deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow,” said McCaul.
“If the Putin regime is allowed to complete this pipeline, it will only be because the Biden government has decided to allow it.”
Donald Trump’s former security advisor, John Bolton, wrote on Twitter that the president’s behaviour was outrageous.
He said: “Biden’s tough rhetoric on Russia is meaningless if words aren’t backed with action.”
Most recently, Republican senators such as Texan Ted Cruz threatened to block appeals from top officials in the US Senate if Biden did not stop the construction of the pipeline, which is more than 90 percent complete.
Biden still has numerous vacancies in his team, not least in important ambassadorial posts, for example in Berlin.
According to “Axios”, the new sanctions report only provides for punitive measures to be imposed on a few other Russian ships that are involved in the construction of the pipeline.
German government circles also doubt whether the dispute over the pipeline has now been resolved.
The “waiver” created space for further diplomatic efforts, it was said – but this also means that if the pressure of the Republicans on the White House becomes too great, Biden can still rely on sanctions when the next sanctions report is presented in 90 days.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg
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