On Wednesday, Senate Democrats suggested further penalties against Russia if it invades Ukraine, in an attempt to block a Republican proposal that the White House worries could splinter European allies.
The Democrats’ plan aims to provide them with White House-backed legislation to show their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty while also ratcheting up US threats of financial penalties for Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops around Ukraine’s borders.
If Russia invades Ukraine, the Democratic measure allows for extra sanctions relating to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas project between Russia and Germany.
In a statement laying out the Democrats’ sanctions legislation, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the United States Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine.”
The Biden administration and Democratic leaders are also attempting to prevent any Democratic votes in the Senate for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s competing plan. Whether or if Russia invades, Cruz’s bill would impose fresh sanctions on pipeline operators. Although Nord Stream 2 has been completed, it has yet to be put into service.
Cruz’s bill is up for a vote in the Senate this week. Its future is unknown. It would require at least ten Democratic votes to pass the chamber, and it is unclear whether it would be put to a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.
Republicans have painted President Joe Biden and other Democrats who oppose Cruz’s plan as weak in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Given Democratic charges that President Donald Trump was overly submissive to Russian President Vladimir Putin, this is a salient political argument.
The White House and Democratic lobbying of Democratic lawmakers in opposition to his bill is “to Putin’s benefit.” Cruz tweeted last week, “While Russian tanks prepare to attack.”
Cruz’s idea, according to the Biden administration, may hurt relations with Germany, which, like the rest of Europe, is reliant on imported natural gas. If Cruz’s bill passes, it risks splintering what administration officials claim is a united front among the US and its European allies when it comes to punishing Russia if it invades. According to Democrats, the schism will boost Putin’s hand.
Putin, his civilian and military commanders, as well as significant Russian financial organizations, would be targeted under the Democratic bill. It is less outspoken in its opposition to Nord Stream 2 than Cruz’s bill, saying only that the US “should examine all available and reasonable steps to prevent the Nord Stream 2 project from being operational.”
The pipeline would quadruple the amount of gas piped directly to Germany by Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom. It runs beneath the Baltic Sea and avoids current routes through Poland and Ukraine. It would, according to Gazprom, make long-term supplies more reliable.
Critics argue that the pipeline strengthens Russia’s grip on Europe, divides member nations against one another, and deprives Ukraine and Poland of billions in transit payments. Europe entered the winter with dwindling gas supplies, driving prices up to eight times what they were at the start of 2021. The supply shortage has aided Putin’s quest for final German and European approval of the project.
On Wednesday, the president of the International Energy Agency criticized Russia for exacerbating Europe’s natural gas crisis, claiming that high prices and low storage levels are mostly due to Gazprom’s actions.
According to a source familiar with the preparations who was not allowed to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, the US and its allies have begun to work on contingency plans in case Russia decides to shut off gas supplies to Ukraine and elsewhere. In Asia, inventories are now higher than usual. Other suppliers that might come in to fill the void include Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, and Qatar.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stated that if Russia invades Ukraine, which has a government anxious to align with the West, he feels it is exceedingly improbable that Germany will begin operating the pipeline. Germany’s new administration has yet to provide a firm public response to this question.
Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, warned on Wednesday that implementing additional penalties over Nord Stream 2 regardless of whether Russia invades, as Cruz’s bill proposes, eliminates the power that the prospect of sanctions gives.
“We endorse Senator Menendez’s proposal, which would impose heavy economic repercussions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine again, exactly as President Biden and our friends and partners have stated,” Horne added.