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US Senate approves Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline sanctions

Nord Stream - two pipes are welded together on the Castoro Sei pipelaying vessel. (Bair175/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Senate on December 17 voted overwhelmingly to impose sanctions on companies working on a Russian pipeline in a move likely to be criticized by European nations counting on receiving the project’s natural gas.

The Senate passed the bill with an overwhelming majority of 86-8.

The measure, which is part of a defense spending bill, easily cleared the House of Representatives last week. It aims to halt further construction of the $10.6-billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea and set to double shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany.

The pipeline, which will have the capacity to carry up to 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, is more than 80 percent built and is expected to be completed early next year.

U.S. lawmakers have warned that the pipeline would send billions of dollars to Moscow and help President Vladimir Putin widen his influence in Europe.

After the bill was passed in the House on December 12, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted that Kyiv was “grateful” to the United States.

Ukraine has long protested the project and has lobbied Washington to pass the bill as the pipeline would deprive the country of more than $2 billion in transit fees.

Ukraine also sees the pipeline as undermining existing economic sanctions imposed by the West to compel Russia to resolve a conflict in eastern Ukraine and end its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Germany, however, reacted with irritation last week, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas calling the U.S. move “foreign interference.”

“Decisions on European Energy Policy are taken in Europe,” Maas tweeted on December 12.

The German-Russian Chamber of Commerce said last week that Nord Stream 2 was important for the energy security of Europe and called for retaliatory sanctions on the U.S. if the bill passes.

The sanctions target pipe-laying vessels and include asset freezes and the revocation of U.S. visas for the contractors.

One major contractor that could be hit is the Swiss-based Allseas, which has been hired by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom to build the offshore section.

The United States has sought to stop pipelines designed to carry Russian energy to Europe in the past but failed each time.