Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that Germany was cooperating to mitigate effects of major pipeline from Russia after a US decision to waive sanctions drew wide criticism.
President Joe Biden’s administration last month decided not to enforce sanctions against the builder of Nord Stream 2, which will supply energy-hungry Germany, drawing praise from Moscow ahead of his summit with President Vladimir Putin on June 16.
Blinken, criticized over the move during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, said that construction of the pipeline had already progressed too far to stop it.
“The worst possible outcome from our perspective would be physical construction of the pipeline completed, the relationship with Germany poisoned and no incentive for Germany to come to the table to make good on working to mitigate the serious negative consequences,” Blinken said.
“The Germans have now come to the table. We are actively engaged with them,” Blinken said.
Ukraine has been especially alarmed by Nord Stream 2 which allows Russia to avoid its territory, depriving the country — which is battling an insurgency by pro-Moscow separatists — both of fees and leverage.
Blinken said one option discussed with European partners is to guarantee that Ukraine keep receiving transit fees for “many years into the future.”
He said Germany was also looking with the United States at actions that can be automatically triggered if Russia steps up pressure on Ukraine over gas.
“We’re looking to our allies and partners to commit upfront to taking action,” he said, so that “we don’t have to scramble if Russia does something bad.”
He also hinted at US action at other aspects of the pipeline even after the waiver on punishment against Swiss-based but Russian-controlled Nord Stream 2 AG.
“Even when the pipeline is physically complete, for it to go into operation it still requires insurance, it still requires various permits, and we’re looking very carefully at all of that.”
Poland and Baltic states have also fiercely opposed the pipeline, which has drawn bipartisan opposition in Washington.
Senator Bob Menedez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and usually an ally of Biden, questioned the decision not to enforce sanctions, saying it sent a bad signal to Putin.
Biden “himself has said he’s a murderer. He’s KGB and he only understands strength. I would have thought that one of the most significant ways to show strength is to ensure that the pipeline is killed,” Menendez said.