Show an ad over header. AMP

Russia's enemies fear Biden won't fight to stop Putin's Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Russia's adversaries in central and Eastern Europe are worried President Biden isn't willing to fight hard to stop the Russia-Germany gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 — one of Vladimir Putin's core priorities.

Why it matters: The fight is the first significant test of whether Biden's tough rhetoric against the Russian leader will be matched by action. Russian opponents fear Biden doesn't want to antagonize Angela Merkel and won't inflict serious costs on the Germans.


The big picture: The completion of Nord Stream 2 would be a huge geopolitical win for Putin and give him substantial new leverage in Europe. Russia has cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine as retribution in disputes.

  • Bypassing Ukraine with a direct pipeline to Germany helps Russia advance its goal of isolating its former client state, now a struggling democracy, from Western Europe.
  • Russian gas currently has to pass through Ukraine on its way to Europe.
  • The pipeline is more than 90% complete and could be finished by the summer without a major intervention to stop it.

Driving the news: Until now, messages of concern have been conveyed to the Americans privately. But on Monday, a source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Axios: "The Ukrainians are a bit disappointed that President Biden did not commit during the Munich [Security] Conference to use every tool in his power to stop Nord Stream 2."

  • "But it is not too late," the source close to Zelensky added, "for the U.S. to take decisive action, and the Ukrainians are hopeful the Biden administration will do so."

The comments follow an unusual joint public statement Monday from the Polish and Ukrainian governments.

  • The Polish and Ukrainian foreign ministers co-authored an op-ed in Politico Europe urging Biden to follow the lead of the U.S. Congress and do everything in his power to block the pipeline.
  • "We call on U.S. President Joe Biden to use all means at his disposal to prevent the project from completion," the ministers wrote.
  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement: "The Biden administration is committed to using all available tools to counter Russian malign influence and to support transatlantic energy security goals."
  • Price added: "We have been clear that companies risk sanctions if they are involved in the Nord Stream 2 project. We continue to examine entities involved in potentially sanctionable activity."

Behind the scenes: On Friday, the State Department submitted a mandatory report to Congress that was supposed to list all the vessels involved in Nord Stream 2 construction, as well as any insurance firms or other companies involved in the pipeline.

  • The report didn't name any new companies that would be a target for U.S. sanctions, according to the Wall Street Journal and confirmed to Axios by a source who's read the report, which has not been publicly released.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, condemned the report as weak and incomplete.

  • "Maritime tracking information makes it clear that ships not covered in today's report are currently active in supporting Nord Stream 2 construction," Risch said in a statement. He demanded an "immediate explanation" from the Biden administration.
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) also said the Biden administration must do more to stop the pipeline and that she looked forward to being briefed on "additional measures."

Between the lines: America's partners in Eastern and central Europe want Biden to make clear he's willing to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline from being completed.

  • This would include sanctioning the entire construction fleet and signaling a willingness to sanction the German utility companies that would be receiving the Russian energy.
  • President Trump even leveled trade threats at Merkel as part of his hardline tactics to stop Nord Stream 2.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also cleared the path for a wider range of sanctions, saying last summer he was sounding "a clear warning to companies aiding and abetting Russia's malign-influence projects it will not be tolerated. ...Get out now, or risk the consequences."
  • Construction on Nord Stream 2 halted during the Trump presidency.

While Team Biden has said the pipeline is a "bad deal" and that they want to stop it, the administration done little so far to suggest it's willing to lean into the fight.

  • The Russians seem to have taken notice. Major construction on Nord Stream 2 resumed after Biden took office.

Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton, alleging he launched probe in retaliation for Trump ban

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President" days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Keep reading... Show less

Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton, alleging he launched probe in retaliation for Trump ban

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President" days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Keep reading... Show less

Retiring Republicans could clear the path for GOP troublemakers to join the Senate ranks

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.

Keep reading... Show less

Diversity in Congress is growing steadily, but lags behind the U.S. population

Data: Brookings Institution and Pew Research Center; Note: No data on Native Americans in Congress before the 107th Congress; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The number of non-white senators and House members in the 535-seat Congress has been growing steadily in the past several decades — but representation largely lags behind the overall U.S. population.

Why it matters: Non-whites find it harder to break into the power system because of structural barriers such as the need to quit a job to campaign full time for office, as Axios reported in its latest Hard Truths Deep Dive.

Keep reading... Show less

As Senate Republicans retire, lobbyists eye staff as top-notch talent

The retirements of high-profile Senate Republicans mean a lot of experienced staffers will soon be seeking new jobs, and Washington lobbying and public affairs firms are eyeing a potential glut of top-notch talent.

Why it matters: Roy Blunt is the fifth Republican dealmaker in the Senate to announce his retirement next year. Staffers left behind who can navigate the upper chamber of Congress will be gold for the city’s influence industry.

Keep reading... Show less

U.S. grants temporary protected status to thousands of Venezuelans

Venezuelans living in the United States will be eligible to receive temporary protected status for 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security announced Monday.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of Venezuelans have fled to the U.S. amid economic, political and social turmoil back home. Former President Trump, on his last full day in office, granted some protections to Venezuelans through the U.S. Deferred Enforced Departure program, but advocates and lawmakers said the move didn't go far enough.

Keep reading... Show less

Zuckerberg floated possibility of remote work in January 2020. Sandberg thought he was "nuts"

Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg thought Mark Zuckerberg was "nuts" when he raised the possibility in January 2020 that 50,000 Facebook employees might have to work from home. By March 6, they were.

Why it matters: In an interview Monday with Axios Re:Cap, Sandberg explained how Facebook moved quickly to respond to the pandemic with grants for small businesses and work-from-home stipends for its employees, and how the company has been watching the unfolding crisis for women in the workforce.

Keep reading... Show less

Supreme Court declines to hear case on qualified immunity for police officers

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal for a lawsuit brought against Cleveland police officers that challenges the scope of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine which has been used to shield officers from lawsuits alleging excessive force, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The doctrine has been the subject of scrutiny from civil rights advocates. Eliminating qualified immunity was one of the key demands of demonstrators during nationwide protests in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories