As Russia continues to deploy troops and military equipment near its border with Ukraine, the U.S. recently moved behind the scenes to exempt from sanctions a Russia-backed ship involved in the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline project Russia is working on completing. Some commentators have said that the move violates the law and undercuts U.S. efforts to deter the threat of a Russian invasion into Ukraine.
American intelligence reportedly believes that a Russian invasion as soon as early 2022 could involve upwards of 175,000 troops. Ukrainian and NATO officials have been warning that an attack is imminent. In response, the U.S. has been assembling an economic sanctions package to support a video conference between Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held on Tuesday.
The revelation that the Biden administration planned to protect a ship involved in the Nord Stream 2 projection seriously undermined the White House claim that deterrence intends to be serious. The project is designed to skirt around Ukraine, cutting the country out of natural gas distribution networks and making the prospects of a Russian invasion more straightforward. The administration has demonstrated a reluctance to deter the completion of Nord Stream 2.
In a press release on November 22, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that although the U.S. had identified two ships and one business entity linked to Russia subject to sanctions, only one ship would be subjected to sanctions.
A front group operates the ship receiving a waiver in Germany on behalf of Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom. Sources indicate that the administration is avoiding its legal obligations under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act, passed in 2019, to prevent the Trump administration from making any energy concessions to Russia.
Germany has pressed Biden to be lenient regarding Nord Stream 2. Throughout the summer, as the State Department negotiated with Russia about the situation on the Ukrainian border, it was therefore forced to tread carefully around the question of pipeline sanctions.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that the White House uses “every trick possible to avoid sanctions” against the completed pipeline.