BRUSSELS (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that he had told his German counterpart that sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline were a real possibility and had “no ambiguity” in America’s opposition to its construction.
Berlin has so far bet that the new administration of US President Joe Biden will take a pragmatic approach to the project to deliver Russian gas to Europe as it is nearing completion, officials and diplomats have told Reuters.
Echoing Biden’s concerns about a pipeline from Russia to Germany, Blinken said he told German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Tuesday in a private meeting that companies involved in the project risked being hit by sanctions, especially when construction might be completed.
“I explained that companies that are involved in the risk of pipe construction are subject to US sanctions. The pipeline divides Europe, exposing Ukraine and central Europe to Russian manipulation and coercion, it goes against Europe’s own stated energy goals, ”Blinken told a news conference.
The Kremlin says Nord Stream 2, a $ 11 billion venture led by Russian state energy company Gazprom, is a commercial project, but some US administrations have opposed the project and Europe has pledged to reduce its dependence on Russian energy.
The United States and Eastern European Union countries such as Poland say Nord Stream 2 is part of Russia’s economic and political action to manipulate European countries and damage transatlantic relations.
“What I said (to Maas) is that we will continue to monitor activities to complete or certify the pipeline and if those activities take place, we will enforce sanctions,” Blinken said.
He said it was important to get the message directly to Maas, “just to clarify our position and to make sure there is no ambiguity.”
Reuters reported on February 24 that 18 companies had recently stopped working on the pipeline to avoid sanctions.
Asked about a possible compromise in which Germany’s energy grid regulators could be empowered to stop gas flow if Russia crosses the line, Blinken declined to comment.
Last month, Germany’s former ambassador to the United States floated the idea of a compromise between Washington and Berlin that would have the finished pipeline used as political leverage.
The triggers for what the former envoy, Wolfgang Ischinger, calls the “emergency brake” may include violent turmoil between Ukraine and Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, or if Moscow tries to undermine Kyiv’s existing gas transit infrastructure.
Reporting by Robin Emmott; Edited by Andrew Heavens and Edmund Blair