Article by: Yuliia RudenkoEdited by: Alya Shandra
On 23 September, the Democrat-controlled lower house of the United States Congress voted for amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Among other things, the changes introduce mandatory sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. And that is how Biden lost the opportunity to play around with Moscow’s project restrictions.
The amendment was proposed by a group of House of Representative’s legislators led by Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) and Marcy Kaptur (Democrat-Ohio). Now, the bill awaits votes from the Senate and by the President.
When approved in November-December this year, the law will bind US President Biden to impose sanctions on Putin’s pipeline without the right to waive them.In other words, the Oval Office will not be able to enforce Congress laws selectively — at least, no selection will be permitted with regard to sanctions on Nord Stream 2.
According to a former Ukrainian Parliament’s deputy Svitlana Zalishchuk, the amendment has all chances to pass.
The 2019 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act managed to halt the construction of the pipeline for a year. But owing to the bill’s provision on waiving sanctions, the new administration lifted the restriction in an effort to improve ties with Berlin, which supports the Russian project. This decision on the side of the US gave a green light to Nord Stream 2, the construction of which was completed this September.
That is why the U.S. Parliament changed its approach in 2021. Now, they leave Biden no choice but to sanction Nord Stream 2.
John Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, greeted this move from the House of Representatives:
Ms. Zalishchuk points out the significance of the amendment passed in the U.S. Congress lower chamber:
“Why is the … voting so important although it is not final?
First, because it was the voting in the House of Representatives that caused the most doubts and risks.
Second, the sanctions are absolute, bypassing them will not be possible.
Third, since 1961, the National Defense Authorization Act which encompassed our amendment has always, id est annually, been approved by Congress.
To cut a long story short, this amendment is the Congress’ lethal force against Nord Stream 2.”
The vitality of this move is that it implies sanctions on subjects engaged not only in the planning or construction of the project but also on those involved in its certification. The project was completed earlier in September but it still needs to undergo certification which will take a few months.That is, the new sanctions might still stop the launch of Nord Stream 2, if approved by the start of the year.
That is why Moscow tries to expedite the certification of its project by abandoning the expert of natural gas through Ukraine to the EU in the reality of supply shortage. And that is what is making Europe’s gas prices skyrocket.We remind that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is an $11 billion project with a transport capacity of 55 billion cubic metres that runs underwater from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine.
Not only does the pipeline take away $2 billion gas transit fees from Ukraine annually, it also undermines the country’s security. That is because Putin’s main motive to transit gas to Europe without Ukraine’s involvement is to get rid of the significant leverage Ukraine has over Russia. Without such an important agent of influence, Moscow is free to escalate its aggression against Kyiv.
The current Ukraine-Russia agreement on gas transit to Europe will be in force until 2024. But Putin has already threatened to cut Kyiv’s gas because of the conflict in Donbas.
In July 2021, Germany and the US signed an agreement to prevent the Kremlin from using the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a geopolitical weapon. However, experts deem this as a mere formality with no legal effect.
Poland appears Ukraine’s powerful ally as it strongly opposed the Russian project out of national security concern.
The stance is also backed by the U.S. Congress. But not the country’s current president, who, together with Germany has persistently backed Nord Stream 2.