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The Daily Vertical: Good Optics, Mixed Messages (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

Well, here's a little something that slipped below the radar while most of our attention was focused on the dramatic transatlantic mass expulsions of Russian diplomats this week.

Germany's maritime authority yesterday gave the final go-ahead for the portion of the Nord Stream-2 pipeline that passes through that country's territorial waters.

The juxtaposition is revealing.

On one hand, we just saw 24 countries expel more than 100 Russian diplomats, an act the pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia denounced as a "flash mob."

And on the other, we have one of those countries -- a pretty important one at that -- taking a business-as-usual approach when it comes to a lucrative energy deal like Nord Stream.

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Sure, the expulsions in retaliation for the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in the U.K. were attention-grabbing and headline-grabbing.

And sure, the coordinated transatlantic approach made for strong messaging.

But as former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter said on the BBC yesterday, "Russia will continue with its aggressive behavior until it feels that the consequences and the costs are strong and exceed the benefits, and so far that's not been the case."

And making the costs outweigh the benefits, Carpenter added, would require stronger financial sanctions, stronger defense-sector sanctions, and, yes, stronger energy sanctions.

So the West essentially sent two messages to the Kremlin this week.

It sent one message saying that poisoning a U.K. citizen with a nerve agent on U.K. territory is unacceptable.

And it sent another message saying that despite this being unacceptable, we can continue to do business together.

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