With winter approaching, Europe is facing an energy crisis. To a significant degree, Vladimir Putin is orchestrating it.
Josh Rogin observes that Putin has been refusing to respond swiftly to requests by Europeans for more gas. He is also probably behind the migrant crisis along the Belarus-Poland border. As a result of that crisis, as John noted yesterday, the Belarus president has threatened to close down a key gas pipeline to Europe. (The Washington Post has more on this development here.)
Putin is using the crisis he helped manufacture to make the case for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is nearing completion. He says that if that pipeline were operational, he could increase the flow of gas to Europe immediately.
However, Rogin counters that, even without that pipeline, Putin could turn up the spigot today if he chose to:
Putin doesn’t need a new pipeline to sell gas; he just wants it as another tool to control his neighbors, several of whom are NATO allies.
In this quest, Putin has an ally in Joe Biden. Unlike Donald Trump, whom Democrats and their media allies slanderously claimed was beholden to Putin and therefore doing his bidding, Biden actually is doing Putin’s bidding on the vital matter of Nord Stream 2.
Rogin reminds us that, during his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken testified that the administration was committed to preventing completion of Nord Stream 2. That would have been a continuation of Trump’s policy. However, Blinken was overruled by the White House:
In May, the United States waived sanctions on the firm in charge of the project, Nord Stream 2 AG, and its chief executive. National security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the waivers on the grounds that it was a “Swiss company,” a claim fact checkers called misleading considering it is wholly owned by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy conglomerate.
My Post colleagues reported Blinken was overruled by the White House regarding the sanctions. In June, Blinken called the pipeline’s completion a “fait accompli.”
Not to worry, though:
In July, the United States and Germany issued a “joint statement” in which Germany promised to try to convince Russia not to use the excess capacity created by Nord Stream 2 to cut its exports through Ukraine — a move that could cripple Ukraine’s economy.
The Biden administration’s hope that Putin won’t weaponize [the pipeline] against several countries, including Germany, is either disingenuous or naive. When Putin gets powerful leverage, the pattern shows he will surely use it.
Without ever wanting to underestimate the naivety of Team Biden, I vote for “disingenuous” in this case.
Is there still time to stop Nord Stream 2? Rogin thinks there may be, through aggressive sanctions.
In this connection, he points out that in late September, the House passed a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Biden administration to sanction all companies associated with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The White House would not have the power to issue a waiver.
Senate Republicans are on board, but Senate Democrats are reluctant to tie the administration’s hands. They haven’t yet said whether they will support nonwaivable sanctions. But unless Joe Biden’s hands are tied, there is no hope of stopping the pipeline and therefore no hope of thwarting Putin’s power play against Europe.
Joe Biden has already proved to be more accommodating to Russia than Donald Trump ever was.