Biden’s Ukraine policy sparks confusion; Senate motions for sanctions

Pipelines for Nord Stream 2. 

Russian vessel moves to German waters for Nord Stream 2 advancement 

By Rachel Brooks

May 24, 2021  

Russia’s Fortuna vessel has moved to German waters to commence with the Nord Stream 2 project construction, Reuters reports. The gas project stated that they were laying Nord Stream 2 pipelines in German waters, citing Germany’s Waterway and Shipping Authority. 

U.S. President Joe Biden allowed the continuation without consequences for the Swiss firm behind the Nord Stream 2 project despite American misgivings. The Biden administration expressed cautionary views of the project.   Despite Biden’s stance, Senate Republicans have introduced legislation to impose sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 project “following the Biden administration’s waiver.”  

In a reported by Morrison Foerster, it was stated that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “determined that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application of sanctions to the most significant entities and individuals named in the report, namely: Nord Stream 2 AG (the company overseeing the Nord Stream 2 project), its CEO Matthias Warnig.”

“This “national interest” determination drew immediate rebukes from Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, prompted Senate Republicans to introduce a bill mandating Nord Stream 2 sanctions, and resulted in praise from Germany and criticism across Eastern Europe,” the report continued.

The report likewise stated that it appeared the Biden administration was attempting to repair the U.S. relationship with Germany through the Nord Stream 2 project following a “tense relationship” with the Trump administration. Nord Stream 2 is expected to remain a contentious issue for Europe over the human rights abuses anticipated from Russia.

The Biden administration drew heated criticism for its consent to Blinken’s assessment and decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 project. New York Post called out the administration for “bending the knee to Russia” on the project’s progress. The journal argued that “by the letter of the law” and the Biden administration’s own “anticarbon principles” the Biden administration should impose sanctions upon the “Switzerland-based Nord Stream 2 AG firm” building Nord Stream 2, and its CEO Matthias Warnig. 

Warnig has a long history of ties to the Kremlin’s interests. Deutsche Welle reported that Warnig is a former agent of the Stasi and a long-time “crony” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Warnig’s history with the Kremlin was recorded in Alexei Navalny’s investigative video entitled “Putin’s Palace,” a project of the Alexei Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation. 

Deutsche Welle described Warnig as the “oldest German friend” of Vladimir Putin as well as the “most active German in Russian business circles.” Warnig has also been linked to a series of letters sent to Putin’s ex-wife in the 1990s directly from his fax machine. Warnig has reportedly provided Putin and his family with financial assistance. Putin was “a former KGB officer in Dresden”, and his family, citing the Russian opposition leader. While it is publicly stated that Putin and Warnig met in St. Petersburg after they left the Stasi and KGB, some sources believe their connection might overlap with their respective roles in intelligence, writes Deutsche Welle. 

Putin has led Russia for 20 years, and in that timeframe, Warnig has reportedly risen as the “most influential German” in the Russian economy. Warnig spoke with Die Presse and gave his reasons for accepting supervisory seats in Russian economics. Warnig and Putin have been described as “very good friends” which includes connections between the two families. The Guardian reported in 2014 that Putin was frequently a patron of Cafe des Artistes, a restaurant owned by Matthias Warnig’s son, Stefan Warnig, whom Putin reportedly knew from his childhood and who was reportedly a friend of Putin’s young daughters in his childhood. 

The Guardian also wrote in 2014 that the Ukraine crisis was having a “particularly strong impact on Warnig.” On July 31, 2014, the EU blacklisted prominent shareholders of Bank Rossiya. The two bankers in question were Yuri Kovalchuk and Nikolai Shamalov. The EU was following the actions of the Obama administration, which had frozen assets of Bank Rossiya. Kovalchuk and Shamalov were reportedly well-known associates of Warnig. Warnig was described as a member of the board of directors of “a board of Putin’s friends.”  

The Biden administration’s current status allowing the Nord Stream 2 project to advance without sanctioning Warnig is a walkback from the Obama administration’s response to energy politics of the region. During the Obama administration, 2014 era, the Foreign Affairs Committee had tightened its support of Ukraine’s regional security. The Obama administration continued to impose sanctions on the region.

The Foreign Affairs committee met on May 6, 2014 to discuss Ukarine, in a meeting entitled “Ukraine – – Countering Russian Intervention and Supporting a Democratic State.”

The Biden administration appears to walk back some of Biden’s previous stances on the importance of Ukraine’s security. In the minutes of this discussion, Biden was quoted for statements made on his visit to Kiev in 2014 regarding the importance of a “free and fair election” in the 2014 Ukraine.

This may be the most important election in the history of Ukraine. This is a chance to make good on the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians east and west and every part of this country,” said Biden in 2014, as he was quoted by the Foreign Affairs Committee. The prepared statement of former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia Dr. Evelyn Farkas to the Committee noted that “as demonstrated by the Vice President’s visit to Kiev” the Obama administration had made “support for Ukraine a top priority.” 

Sanctions during the Obama administration were met with mixed response. Bob Corker, Senator of Tennesse, argued in this meeting that the Russian stock market had risen 4 per cent in the wake of the sanctions imposed as of 2014, and referred to them as having “no benefit.”

Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in Obama’s State Department, highlighted the American position during the 2014 era. Nuland noted that, motions introduced to Ukraine in the conflict deescalation were met with cooperation, but Russia failed to cooperate with any of the negotation terms that were proposed. She detailed the Russian aggression and influence in hostilities of that era, including the seizure of television stations and violent riots, torture, and other mayhem tactics used to create regional instability.

“Senator, I would disagree with you with regard to the impact of sanctions,” said Nuland.

“Russia’s economy is already showing that this model does not lead to a great Russia. It leads to a broke one. Russia’s credit rating is hovering just above junk. Fifty-one billion dollars in capital has fled Russia since the beginning of the year, almost as much as in all of 2013 combined, and that was a bad year for capital flight. Russian bonds are trading at higher yields than any debt in Europe, as the ruble has fallen, the Central Bank has raised interest rates twice and has spent close to $30billion from its reserve to stabilize the ruble.”

Despite Biden’s statements of “unwavering support” in Ukraine’s “faceoff with Russia”, as was reported by Reuters in April, his current policy torward Nord Stream 2 appears contradictory.

America’s position regarding the Nord Stream 2 project has posed worrying prospects for global critics. These critics continue to express distrust in the American position on the pipeline which will connect Europe to Russia via oil lines. Among the greatest critics is Ukraine’s president, who fears for the national and economic security of Ukraine as a result of the project. Ukraine fears losing political status and economic status as the project bypasses its territory. This comes at a time when eastern Ukraine continues a protracted conflict with Russia over its eastern Donbas province, where the Russian government has expressed an aggressive agenda.