Biden Defends Lifting Sanctions Against Key Pipeline for Russian Gas

President Joe Biden on Tuesday defended his administration’s decision to lift sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which would carry natural gas from Russia to Germany and Europe.

The president said that although he opposed the project from the beginning, the pipeline is now nearly finished.

“To go ahead and impose sanctions now would, I think, be counterproductive in terms of our European relations. They know how strongly I feel,” Biden told reporters outside the White House.

In late 2019, Congress and the Trump administration sanctioned a number of entities tied to the construction of the $10.5 billion pipeline. The sanctions were part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which stated the goal was to “minimize the ability” of Russia to use Nord Stream 2 “as a tool of coercion and political leverage” and to stop Russia from shifting energy exports from Ukraine to other countries. Russia vowed to continue the project at the time.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration waived the sanctions against the CEO and the company overseeing the construction of the project. In announcing the waiver of the sanctions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the company, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its CEO, Matthias Warnig, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, engaged in sanctionable activity.

News of the waiver drew criticism from both sides of the aisle.

“I am opposed to the decision by the Biden Administration to waive sanctions on NS2 AG and Matthias Warnig,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said in a statement on May 19.

“I urge the administration to rip off the Band-Aid, lift these waivers and move forward with the congressionally mandated sanctions. The administration has said that the pipeline is a bad idea and that it is a Russian malign influence project. I share that sentiment, but fail to see how today’s decision will advance U.S. efforts to counter Russian aggression in Europe.”

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Wis.) said the waivers will be “a gift to Putin that will only weaken the United States’ leverage in the lead up to the impending Biden-Putin summit.”

The Biden administration previously came under fire when a report on the pipeline released in February failed to name a number of entities tied to the pipeline’s construction, which would have been sanctioned as a result. The administration instead sanctioned ships that had already been sanctioned under President Donald Trump.

Zachary Stieber and Isabel Van Brugen contributed to this report.

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