President Joe Biden on Tuesday stood by his decision not to sanction the company in charge of building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, characterizing the move as protecting relationships with European allies.
“I have been opposed to Nord Stream 2 from the beginning,” Biden said Tuesday of the pipeline, which is expected to be finished this summer and is intended to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while giving Russia more direct access to the European market.
“But it was almost completed by the time I took office,” Biden added. “And to go ahead and impose sanctions now would I think be counterproductive in terms of our European relations and I hope we can work on how they handle it from this point on.”
CNN reported earlier this month that the administration opted to sanction some of the smaller entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 project, including some Russian companies and ships that have been helping in the construction. But the administration ultimately decided to issue a national security waiver for the major company involved in the construction of the pipeline – Nord Stream 2 AG, which is a registered Swiss firm whose parent company is the Russian gas giant Gazprom.
The move to let the pipeline proceed unimpeded – signaling that the administration is prioritizing unity with allies over concerns about a potential geopolitical threat – could also increase strain between the White House and Democratic lawmakers, many of whom oppose Nord Stream 2.
The administration’s decision, first reported by Axios, served as a win for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who many in Congress fear will now have greater leverage over Eastern Europe. It was also expected to infuriate Kiev – the pipeline will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in shipping gas to the European Union through the Baltic Sea, depriving the Ukrainians of crucial revenue.
There was an intense back-and-forth over the decision and during the process the State Department prepared an assessment of what action would have been required to stop the pipeline, though the administration decided not to pursue that course, one source familiar with the process told CNN at the time.
It decided that stopping the pipeline was not worth blowing up the relationship with Germany given the many national security issues the two countries work on together, the source explained. The second source familiar with the situation said the decision was ultimately the White House’s call.
CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Natasha Bertrand and Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.