Nord Stream 2 Sanctions and "leverage"

Dems shift gears on Russian pipeline, backing Biden against Cruz’s gambit - POLITICO

Top Senate Democrats have long opposed a Russian natural gas pipeline that’s set to enrich Vladimir Putin. But those lawmakers are putting those concerns aside to back up President Joe Biden as he navigates increasingly precarious talks with Moscow.

Democrats have consistently supported sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that the project will jeopardize Europe’s energy security and allow Putin to blackmail his enemies. But as the Senate prepares to vote next week on legislation from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would force Biden to impose those sanctions, Democrats on Wednesday signaled a significant shift in their posture.

The reason, Democrats say, is that they don’t want to undermine Biden while he engages with Russia over its military buildup on the border with Ukraine. As Putin flirts with an invasion of the U.S. ally, Democrats argued Cruz’s legislation would undercut Biden as he seeks to project unity with European allies — and would remove a key leverage point in the talks.

Even taking this completely at face value and assuming that political loyalty to Biden is not at all a factor, the problem I have with this is that the entire “leverage” is a reward to Russia for aggression towards Ukraine.

Prior to Russia’s recent signals that they might invade Ukraine, the US passed laws that sanctioned the pipeline (Nord Stream 2: Trump approves sanctions on Russia gas pipeline - BBC News). By now using these sanctions as a bargaining chip in the Ukraine saga, Russia gets rewarded for its brinkmanship towards Ukraine, in the form of potentially waiving unrelated sanctions. That does not seem like something apt to discourage future Russian aggression, and is thus counterproductive.

Admittedly, the US is playing a weak hand here. But ISTM that if you have a weak hand, you need to recognize that upfront and let your words and deeds reflect your limitations. Trying to bluff those who see through you is not the right way to play it, IMHO.

Nord Stream 2 is built, but awaiting certification by the German authorities and it has been delayed six months.

Meanwhile the US is upping the export of LNG to Europe.

In this game of pipeline diplomacy being able to haul large quantities of Liquified Natural Gas by ship is a useful card to play. Though I doubt it has anything like the capacity of a pipeline.

Russia is also a big exporter of LNG and wants to increase its exports. It economy is very dependent on the income it gets from gas sales.

The US has grown its LNG exports to become the worlds leading exporter because of…fracking. It only started exporting LNG in 2016. Building LNG gas terminals is a very popular activity in all the countries around the Baltic and there a lots of projects to connect Gas networks in central Europe so gas can be supplied in both directions.

None of this is particularly friendly to the environment, but Natural Gas is an important transition to low carbon power generation and especially the move away from coal.

If the US increased the export of LNG and encouraged other major suppliers to do so as well, the price would fall and cause pressure on the Russian economy.

Putin has little to gain from invading Ukraine and would have to deal with a huge economic recession.

I expect his attention has turned to the recent events in Kazakhstan.