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13 Jan, 2022 20:33

US Senate votes against Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Republican proposal to pre-emptively punish Russia ran into opposition
US Senate votes against Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Democrats in the US Senate have blocked the Republican proposal for sanctions against Russia over the Nord Stream 2 project, saying it didn’t help Ukraine and denied President Joe Biden “leverage” to deal with the Kremlin.

Proposed by Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Senate bill 3436 would have given the White House two weeks to impose travel restrictions, asset freezes, and bans on doing business with US companies for those involved with the natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany. 

Democrats countered that the sanctions would do nothing to stop the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine, which US intelligence and the Biden administration have claimed for weeks to be imminent. Moscow has rejected the claim as “fake news.”

Six Democrats crossed the aisle to support the proposal, but it was not enough. The final vote was 55-44, short of the 60 needed for passage. Sen. Brain Schatz (D-Hawaii), who tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, did not vote.

Speaking out against the bill on the Senate floor, Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) said the proposal was not about national security but “provincial protectionism,” as its advocates hailed from states producing natural gas. He was the sole Republican to vote against the bill.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly urged the Senate to pass Cruz’s bill, calling Nord Stream 2 a threat to his country. While Democrats by and large agreed, the party argued that sanctions right now, and in this particular form, harmed Washington in its diplomacy in Europe.

Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) said Cruz’s bill would “undermine the current diplomatic situation, which is absolutely critical” in dealing with Russia. 

“This bill isn’t going to help Ukraine – it’s designed to hurt [Biden],” said Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut).

Arguments against the Republican proposal mirrored the talking points sent out by the State Department, and published by Politico on Thursday. The Biden administration argued that sanctioning Nord Stream 2 at present would deprive the White House of a “deterrent” and a “credible piece of leverage” in dealing with Moscow. It also claimed that sanctions against Germany would hurt US relations with the newly elected government.

Germany’s delay in approving the pipeline, the State Department said, had already led to higher gas prices in the middle of a European winter, which only profited Russian energy exports.

The Democrats have presented a counter-proposal that would sanction Russia as well as Nord Stream 2, but would be enacted only if the alleged “invasion” of Ukraine actually happens. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), the architect of the original Magnitsky Act anti-Russian sanctions, predicted the proposal might get anywhere from 95 to 99 votes.

Thursday’s vote comes after the much-anticipated US-Russia security talks in Geneva, Switzerland, which focused on Ukraine. Russian diplomats met with US, NATO, and OSCE representatives this week to discuss Moscow’s proposal for a new security deal in Europe, including legally binding guarantees that NATO would not expand into Ukraine and Georgia. The US-led bloc has rejected that offer out of hand.