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US, Germany end energy rift with Nord Stream 2 pipeline accord

David Wainer, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

In an initial reaction to the announcement of the accord, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and Poland, which also has depended on Russian energy supplies, said the U.S.-German agreement “cannot be considered sufficient to effectively limit the threats created by NS2.”

Critics had been looking for specific language under which Germany would vow to shut off the flow of gas through Nord Stream 2 in the event that Russia sought to exert undue influence on Ukraine. But Germany has long resisted such a threat, saying it would only further politicize a project that Merkel insists is purely business-related.

The agreement would commit Germany to use leverage to extend Ukraine’s gas transit agreement with Russia after it expires in 2024.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington Tuesday that “the Germans have put forward useful proposals, and we have been able to make progress on steps to achieve that shared goal, that shared goal being to ensure that Russia cannot weaponize energy.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the emerging U.S.-German accord. The Kremlin has long rejected allegations that it uses energy supplies as a political weapon and has defended Nord Stream 2 as a purely commercial project. Russia has said it would consider using Ukraine to supply gas to Europe after the current transit contract expires but only if Kyiv offers attractive terms.

The progress comes after months of negotiations and a visit by Merkel to the White House last week. In a joint news conference, the two leaders said they are in agreement on deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin from abusing the pipeline for political gains, even as their assessments differ on the pipeline’s intent.

 

“Chancellor Merkel and I are absolutely united in our conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors,” Biden said. “We will be actively acting should Russia not respect this right of Ukraine that it has as a transit country.”

In her remarks, Merkel said, “We have a number of instruments, which for the most part are not on the German but on the European level, that we can implement” and that Germany was “in talks with our European friends.”

Earlier this year, the Biden administration imposed but immediately waived sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the Switzerland-based parent company that’s building the pipeline. U.S. officials said waiving the sanctions gave them room for diplomatic discussions as they’re continuing negotiations with Berlin.

“Can we make something out of a very bad hand that we inherited?” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month in an interview with the German publication Der Spiegel. “Because yes, President Biden has long said that the pipeline is a bad idea, that it will potentially be a tool of Russian economic coercion and strategic coercion, a tool that can be used not only against Ukraine but indeed Europe as a whole to the extent it increases dependence on Russian gas.”

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