By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate was set on Thursday to vote on a bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, legislation that Democrats slammed ahead of the tally.
Cruz needs 60 votes for his legislation to pass, a major hurdle in the 50-50 Senate. The bill is scheduled for a vote at around 2:45 p.m. ET (1945 GMT).
Senator Robert Menendez has won the support of many of his fellow Democrats, including President Joe Biden, for an alternative bill he introduced on Wednesday. It would impose sweeping sanctions on top Russian government and military officials and banking institutions if Moscow engages in hostilities against Ukraine.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who had originally co-sponsored Nord Stream 2 sanctions legislation with Cruz, said she opposes his bill because it risks breaking unity in Washington and in Europe over Russian aggression against Ukraine.
In a speech ahead of the vote, she said Cruz’s legislation would “drive a wedge” between the United States and its allies in Europe, particularly Germany.
The United States, as well as some European countries including Ukraine and Poland, oppose the pipeline, which would deprive Kyiv of transit fees as well as increase Moscow’s leverage over Europe, where gas prices have been soaring.
Cruz, whose proposal would also need to pass the House and be signed by Biden, said that if the Senate does not approve his bill, “Ukraine risks getting wiped off the map altogether.”
The Cruz bill would put sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the company building the project, within 15 days of passage. The Menendez bill would put sanctions on the pipeline, and Russian officials and entities after any aggression on Ukraine by Moscow.
The $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, led by state energy company Gazprom, would send Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Europe via Germany. It was completed late last year but is pending approvals by Germany and the EU that may not come until the middle of the year.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Daniel Wallis)