Nord Stream 2: Maas sees US concession | Free press

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Berlin / Washington / Moscow (dpa) – Secretary of State Heiko Maas has assessed a possible US government exemption from sanctions against Nord Stream 2’s operating company as a concession by the Americans in the pipeline dispute.

“We see this as a constructive step that we are happy to discuss with our partners in Washington,” Maas said in Berlin on Wednesday. The Russian government interpreted the possible lifting of sanctions as a step towards normalizing relations with Washington. Heavy criticism of Democratic US President Joe Biden came from Republicans.

The Axios news website reported on Tuesday that the US government wants to refrain from applying sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG and its German director Matthias Warnig. According to an upcoming report to the US Congress, the State Department only wants to impose punitive measures on a few more Russian ships. The report to Congress must be submitted every 90 days. The deadline expires this week.

Maas confirmed the report in principle: “Essentially Russian entities and ships are listed, and there was a presidential waiver (exemption from the president) for Nord Stream 2 AG and the CEO (general manager), who is a German citizen. ” There was initially no official confirmation from the State Department or the White House.

According to the Interfax agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that if the Axios report were correct, “there will be a touch of normalcy in US politics.” The Kremlin has made a similar statement. However, spokesman Dmitri Peskow pointed out that there was still no official confirmation from Washington. Last Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov wanted to meet his American colleague Antony Blinken in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Maas said Nord Stream 2 was the only issue on which Germany and the US had “fundamentally different views”. You should now see “that this project in no way burdens our truly excellent collaboration”. The next three months until the next report from the United States Department of State to Congress should be used to re-discuss the problematic parts of the project.

Republicans in Congress reacted indignantly after the investigation became known, accusing Biden of playing into the hands of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin. The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said that if the Axios report were correct, it would be an indication that the Biden administration never really wanted to prevent the pipeline.

“This pipeline is not a simple commercial project that could affect our relations with (the government in) Berlin. It is a Russian project of malicious influence that threatens to deepen Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow, ”McCaul criticized. “If Putin’s regime is allowed to complete this pipeline, it will only be because the Biden government has decided to allow it.”

Republican Senator Ted Cruz – one of the driving forces behind the US sanctions – criticized: “Biden has significantly strengthened Putin’s position at the expense of the rest of the free world.” His Senate party member, Ben Sasse, accused Biden of giving Putin “enormous strategic power in Europe”.

When completed, Nord Stream 2 is expected to transport 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year from Russia to Germany. The US fears that the project will make Europe too dependent on Russian gas. Eastern European countries such as Poland and the Baltic states are also rejecting the pipeline. Proponents object to the Americans that they are only looking for better sales opportunities for their liquefied gas in Europe.

Biden had repeatedly called Nord Stream 2 a “bad deal for Europe”. At the end of 2019, construction work on the pipeline, which was well advanced, was halted after the US enacted an initial sanction law against the special ships laying the pipes. In a second law, the sanction options were defined much more broadly. Both laws were backed by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

The Russian company Gazprom is formally the sole shareholder of Nord Stream 2 AG, based in Zug, Switzerland. In addition, there are the German companies Wintershall Dea – a joint venture between BASF and LetterOne – and Uniper, as well as the Dutch-British Shell, Engie from France and OMV from Austria as “supporters”. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is the chairman of the supervisory board of Nord Stream. At Nord Stream 2 he is chairman of the board of directors.