Germany and the United States have warned they could target the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea should Russia invade Ukraine.
A crisis that has arisen around a buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine, seen as a possible prelude to an invasion of the former Soviet republic, has put renewed focus on the new gas pipeline, with the United States and its Western allies vowing to impose crushing economic sanctions on Russia if it invades its neighbor.
The 1,225-kilometer link from Russia to Germany is ready to start operations but still awaiting regulatory approval. The energy project would double gas flow to Germany while bypassing traditional transit nation Ukraine, which relies on existing pipelines for income.
"We are working on a strong package of sanctions" with Western allies, and it covers several aspects "including Nord Stream 2," German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told parliament on January 27, promising serious consequences for Russia if it were to attack.
The warning came after the German ambassador to Washington, Emily Haber, tweeted that "nothing will be off the table, including Nord Stream 2" if Russia “uses energy as a weapon or if there is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty."
The matter is expected to be high on the agenda of a planned meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House on February 7.
Scholz's visit will provide "an opportunity to affirm the deep and enduring ties between the United States and Germany," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on January 27, adding that the two leaders will discuss "their shared commitment to both ongoing diplomacy and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine."
Major European businesses have invested heavily in the $11-billion energy project, which has faced resistance within the European Union, from the United States, as well as Ukraine on the grounds it would increase Europe's energy dependence on Russia -- roughly half the EU's gas currently comes from Russia -- and deny Ukraine transit fees, at a time of heightened tension with the West.
Environmentalists have also questioned how Nord Stream 2 would fit in with Berlin's efforts to cut emissions and tackle man-made climate change.
"If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward," U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland later told reporters.
"We are unified, unified in our preference for diplomacy. But we are also unified in our resolve that if Moscow rejects our offer of dialogue, the costs must be swift and severe," said Nuland, the State Department's number three official.
On January 26, the United States rejected Russia's key demand to bar Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO at some point, while offering instead a "serious diplomatic path" out of a crisis.
The Kremlin, which denies any plan to attack Ukraine, said it would not "rush into assessments" while it was still assessing the proposals.
Russia has said it sees NATO as a security threat and is demanding legal guarantees that the Western military alliance will not further expand eastward.