13:40 GMT15 April 2021
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    Earlier this month, a group of GOP lawmakers led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz put a hold on Joe Biden CIA pick William Burns’ confirmation over the administration’s perceived lack of tough action against Nord Stream 2. On Thursday, the State Department issued new sanctions threats against the joint Russian-European energy infrastructure project.

    Senator Ted Cruz dropped his hold on the Senate confirmation of Biden CIA chief pick William Burns on Thursday after welcoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s threats of new restrictions against Nord Stream 2.

    “I welcome today’s statement by Secretary Blinken, which reinforces to the international community that there is a bicameral, bipartisan, and whole of government commitment in the United States to stopping Putin’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” Cruz said in a statement.

    “Entities that are engaged in work on Nord Stream 2 today now understand that they will face devastating sanctions unless the work stops immediately,” Cruz warned.

    The senator’s comments followed remarks by Blinken earlier in the day that the US would take advantage of existing legislation to issue new sanctions against Nord Stream 2, with the secretary of state warning that “any entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks US sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline”.

    For Cruz, Blinken’s remarks were sufficient to drop his campaign to delay the Senate confirmation of Burns and Brian McKeon, Biden’s choice for deputy secretary of state for management and resources. The lifting of the block prompted the Senate to confirm both nominees unanimously later Thursday.

    However, the Texas senator promised to keep up the effort to block the nomination of Wendy Sherman, Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of state, “until the full sanctions mandated by Congress are in fact broadly imposed against the ships and companies critical to completing the pipeline”.

    Cruz and his allies moved to drag out Burns' and McKeon’s confirmation earlier this month after complaining that the administration wasn’t doing enough to put pressure on Nord Stream 2, and claiming that the completion of the pipeline would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to “gain a stranglehold over Europe’s gas supplies”.

    This isn’t the first time Cruz has attacked Nord Stream 2. Last year, he wrote a threatening letter to the owner of the German port providing logistical support for the project, with a senior Bundestag MP likening the letter to a “declaration of economic war” and demanding that Berlin draw up potential countersanctions.

    Risky Sanctions

    The Biden administration has yet to announce new sanctions against Nord Stream 2, an energy infrastructure megaproject promising to bring up tens of billions of cubic meters of Russian natural gas and/or clean hydrogen to Central and Western Europe every year. Germany, the project’s main European benefactor, has slammed the prospect of new sanctions, saying it rejects the prospect of extraterritorial restrictions based on US laws.

    Two rounds of US sanctions packed into must-pass US defence bills in late 2019 and late 2020 prompted a major Swiss construction contractor and several insurers and certification companies to pull out of Nord Stream 2, but major Russian and European energy companies involved in the project have remained undeterred in their commitments to completing construction. The sanctions also include restrictions against a Russian pipelayer ship building the pipeline, but these appear to have had no discernible impact on its involvement.

    Last week, sources told Politico that the Biden administration was planning new sanctions against Nord Stream 2, but indicated that finding appropriate targets was difficult amid the administration’s desire to preserve good relations with Germany. “We’re between a rock and a hard place”, a senior administration source told the outlet.

    German officials consider Nord Stream 2 a key source of energy security amid the country’s move away from nuclear and coal power. Other benefactors include Austria, France, and the Low Countries. Along with Russia’s Gazprom, the project has been financed by Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall, France’s Engie, Austria’s OMV, and the Anglo-Dutch concern Royal Dutch Shell. Once completed, the 1,230 km pipeline network will be able to provide Europe with up to 55 billion cubic meters of gas every year, doubling the capacity of the existing Nord Stream network. The project is 95 percent complete, and is expected to be finished sometime this year.


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