Pipes for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline wait on a Baltic Sea island. (Photo by Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – The Biden administration says it opposes President Vladimir Putin’s new gas pipeline to Europe but is “sending mixed signals,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Cruz said if the Biden administration genuinely doesn’t want to be “soft on Russia, they could actually follow the mandatory law and stop the pipeline.”
During an exchange with Deputy Secretary of State-nominee Wendy Sherman, Cruz recalled that bipartisan legislation signed into law in late 2019 had frozen the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project through 2020, but that “mixed signals” from the new administration “have been heard by Putin.”
“And so Putin, after ceasing building the pipeline for a year, has gone back to building the pipeline. Because Putin and Russia believe the Biden administration will not hold them accountable, will allow them to complete this pipeline, which would put billions of dollars in Putin’s pockets to be used against America, against Europe.”
The U.S. under the current and previous administrations has opposed the $11 billion project, which aims to double the amount of Russian natural gas currently supplied to Germany, through a 760-mile pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
(Image: Nord Stream 2)
Critics say it will increase Europe’s energy dependence on a government with a long track record of using its energy supplies to advance its foreign policy objectives. Nord Stream 2 will also allow Russia to bypass, or reduce the use of, existing pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory, depriving Kyiv of sorely-needed revenue in transit fees
The project is also strongly opposed in Europe, Cruz reminded Sherman.
The European Parliament has voted three time in opposition to Nord Stream 2 – a 433-105 vote in Dec. 2018 for a resolution describing it as “a political project that poses a threat to European energy security and efforts to diversify European energy supplies,” in a 402-163 vote in March 2019, and a resounding 581-80 vote last January, a measure linked to the poisoning and jailing of anti-Putin campaigner Alexei Navalny.
U.S. law requires the State Department to report to Congress on companies that are involved in the project, and as a result are subject to U.S. sanctions. But in an overdue report last month, the department named only two entities already sanctioned by the Trump administration, and other companies that have already withdrawn, or are in the process of doing so – in many cases as a result of the former administration’s outreach.
Congressional Republicans called the move inadequate, and Cruz added to the criticism on Wednesday.
“The report included one ship and its owner, which the Trump administration had already sanctioned, so simply reiterated what the Trump administration had done,” he said.
“It didn’t include any entities that are plainly in violation, not even the company that is actually constructing the pipeline Congress has instructed the president to sanction.”
After Cruz suggested the administration was “going soft on Russia,” Sherman defended it, saying Secretary of State Antony Blinken “has spoken at length about ways in which Russia threatens our country and I –”
“With all due respect,” Cruz interjected, “With all due respect, words are cheap.”
“And so, if the Biden administration wishes to not be soft on Russia, rather than saying ‘we don’t want to be soft on Russia,’ they could actually follow the mandatory law and stop the pipeline.”
“The test is going to be real simple: If Putin has billions of dollars and Europe is energy dependent on Russia because the Biden administration refused to comply with mandatory bipartisan sanctions, that will be the test, and not any political rhetoric about ‘we’re tough on Putin.’ If you’re tough on Putin, don’t give them billions of dollars.”
Cruz said that if Nord Stream is completed, it will be the administration’s fault – although he added that he hoped that would not happen.
“I want that to be a bipartisan victory, and a victory for the United States.”
Sherman told the panel that even if confirmed, she would not have the authority to make decisions unilaterally on sanctions relating to the pipeline project.
“But I can say to you that I will do everything I possibly can to ensure that Nord Stream 2 does not go forward.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki at a press briefing last month reaffirmed that President Biden views Nord Stream 2 as “a bad deal.”
But responding to a question about sanctions, she replied that “sanctions are only one of many important tools to ensure energy security. So we’re also going to work with our allies and partners to reinforce European energy security and to safeguard against the sort of predatory behavior we have warned against.”
One of Washington’s most important allies in Europe, however, is Germany, Russia’s partner in the controversial pipeline. Berlin continues to defend it as a purely commercial project that will benefit Europe.