Tue, 28 Sep 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.: According to an agreement between the United States and Germany, aimed at reducing the "strategic dangers" of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Berlin pledged to respond to any attempt by Russia to use energy as a weapon against Ukraine and other Central and Eastern European countries.

U.S. officials have opposed the pipeline, being built under the Baltic Sea, which would allow Russia to export gas directly to Germany and potentially cut off other nations.

A joint statement setting out the details of the agreement said Washington and Berlin were "united in their determination to hold Russia to account for its aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools."

Under the agreement, Germany will "utilize all available leverage" to extend by 10 years the Russia-Ukraine gas transit agreement, a source of major revenues to Ukraine that expires in 2024. It will also contribute at least $175 million to a new $1 billion "Green Fund for Ukraine" aimed at improving the country's energy independence.

Unsatisfied, Ukraine is still seeking talks with both the European Union and Germany over the pipeline, which is 98 percent complete. The agreement also faces political opposition in the United States and Germany.

Ukraine wrote to Brussels and Berlin calling for consultations, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet, adding that the pipeline "threatens Ukraine's security."

Kuleba also issued a statement with Poland's foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, pledging to work together to oppose Nord Stream 2.

The pipeline had been hanging over U.S.-German relations since former President Donald Trump said it could turn Germany into a "hostage of Russia." Further, the Trump administration approved some sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked about the reported details of the agreement earlier on Wednesday, said any threat of sanctions against Russia was not "acceptable," according to the Interfax news agency.

Even before it was made public, leaked details of the agreement were drawing criticism from some lawmakers in both Germany and the United States.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has been holding up Biden's ambassadorial nominations over his concerns about Nord Stream 2, said the reported agreement would be "a generational geopolitical win for Putin and a catastrophe for the United States and our allies."

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said she was not convinced the agreement would mitigate the impact of the pipeline, which she said "empowers the Kremlin to spread its malign influence throughout Eastern Europe."

In Germany, top members of the environmentalist Greens party called the reported agreement "a bitter setback for climate protection" that would benefit Putin and weaken Ukraine.

Biden administration officials insist the pipeline was so close to being finished when they took office in January that there was no way for them to prevent its completion.

"Certainly, we think that there is more that the previous administration could have done," the U.S. official said. "But, you know, we were making the best of a bad hand."

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