The United States imposed additional sanctions on a Russian vessel and the ship’s owner for their work on the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, but the move was immediately criticized as inadequate by Republican lawmakers.
The sanctions were announced in a report submitted to Congress by the State Department late on February 19.
Two Republican lawmakers immediately denounced the administration for failing to impose sanctions on additional targets and demanded the administration explain what it is doing to oppose the completion of the pipeline.
Representative Michael McCaul (Republican-Texas) said that simply adding a layer of sanctions to previously sanctioned targets was “wholly inadequate” and does not meet lawmakers' intent to stop the pipeline.
“Allowing this pipeline to be completed would be nothing short of a victory for Vladimir Putin,” McCaul said.
Senator Jim Risch (Republican-Idaho) echoed McCaul’s concerns, saying in a statement that Congress has passed multiple bipartisan laws regarding the construction of the pipeline.
Congress specifically broadened the mandatory sanctions to include the types of pipe-laying activities occurring now, Risch said. But the State Department report ignores these activities, which “demands an immediate explanation.”
The lawmakers also said the new sanctions duplicate existing penalties that the Trump administration imposed on the pipe-laying ship Fortuna and its owner KVT-RUS in January.
The United States and several European countries oppose the pipeline, which will reroute Russian natural gas exports under the Baltic Sea, circumventing Ukraine. They say this will deprive Kyiv of billions of dollars in much needed transportation fees while strengthening the Kremlin’s grip on the European energy market.
“We’ve been clear for some time that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal and that companies risk sanctions if they are involved,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters just hours before the report was transmitted to Congress.
“We’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure that Europe has a reliable, diversified energy supply network that doesn’t undermine our collective security. Our goal in all of this is to reinforce European energy security and safeguard against predatory behavior,” he said.
But Risch and McCaul were unimpressed that the administration failed to impose any sanctions on additional targets, notably people and firms in Germany, which is a strong Nord Stream 2 proponent.
Opposition to the pipeline in Congress has increased since the poisoning and arrest of Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and a crackdown against demonstrators who have protested in his support.
A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on February 17 called on the Biden administration to brief Congress on its steps to stop the controversial pipeline, which is believed to be around 90 percent complete.
The lawmakers also said they wanted to know if Germany had made any proposal to halt or water down U.S. sanctions targeting the pipeline amid news reports that it had.
A first round of U.S. sanctions specifically targeting vessels laying the pipeline forced a European contractor to halt work, delaying the launch of Nord Stream 2 by at least a year.
Congress last year passed the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act (PEESCA) to widen the list of sanctionable services against the project to include providing insurance, reinsurance, pipeline testing, inspection, and certification services. PEESCA became law on January 1.