Biden vows to end Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine

Today, President Biden announced that if Russian tanks or troops cross the border of Ukraine, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany would be blocked:

Mr. Biden defined invasion in the most traditional terms possible — troops and tanks — not addressing a number of other ways his aides fear Mr. Putin could bring the country to its knees, including organizing a coup or launching crippling cyberattacks.

“If Russia invades, that means tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” Mr. Biden said. “We will bring an end to it.”

When asked exactly how, Mr. Biden said, “I promise you we’ll be able to do it.”Mr. Scholz, asked the same question, did not answer as forcefully. He has been vague about whether he would agree to terminate the pipeline project, but on Monday he repeated what he has said frequently: “We are absolutely united.”

Here’s video of the question that led up to that statement:

This seems like quite a turn for both Biden and for Germany. Last May the Biden administration waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a decision that was widely seen at the time as a big win for Putin:

The Biden administration has waived sanctions on a company building a controversial gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

The US also lifted sanctions on the executive – an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin – who leads the firm behind the Nord Stream 2 project…

Critics say the pipeline is a major geopolitical prize for the Kremlin.

The project, which would take gas from the Russian Arctic under the Baltic Sea to Germany, is already more than 95% complete.

The decision to waive sanctions came about a month after Russia agreed to pull troops back from the border with Ukraine. However, an analysis by the NY Times found that that pullback was more of a head fake than an actual withdrawal. Only a few thousand out of the 80,000 Russian troops massed at the border left and even the ones who did leave didn’t take their heavy equipment with them, meaning it would take no time at all for them to return.

Since then there has been a lot of concern that Germany was now willing to take significant actions to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, including cutting off the pipeline. The NY Times published a piece two weeks ago saying allies were wondering where Germany was on the issue:

No European country matters more to European unity and the Western alliance. But as Germany struggles to overcome its post-World War II reluctance to lead on security matters in Europe and set aside its instinct to accommodate rather than confront Russia, Europe’s most pivotal country has waffled in the first crucial test for the new government of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Germany’s evident hesitation to take forceful measures has fueled doubts about its reliability as an ally — reversing the dynamic with the United States in recent years — and added to concerns that Moscow could use German wavering as a wedge to divide a united European response to any Russian aggression…

Mr. Scholz and other senior Social Democrats in his government and party have been vague about whether shuttering the controversial Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany would be part of an arsenal of possible sanctions against Russia, insisting it was a “private -sector project” and one “separate” from Ukraine…

Washington has been at pains to publicly stress its trust in Berlin, while privately lobbying Mr. Scholz to take a harder line.

Just this morning, Jake Tapper reported that Ukrainian President Zelensky had canceled a call with Germany’s foreign minister because of her hesitation to say she’d cancel Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded.

Even now it sounds like Biden is speaking a bit more forcefully about this than the German Chancellor. What I don’t get is why. What’s the point of Germany maintaining strategic ambiguity if President Biden is going to stand right next to the German Chancellor and declare this an absolute certainty? Even the reporter who asked the question doesn’t seem to get what this ongoing hesitation to just say what you’ll do if Russia invades.

Here’s the full clip of the joint press conference. As you can see, there’s lots of talk about Germany and the US being united but when another reporter asked why Germany wasn’t providing heavy weapons to Ukraine, the Chancellor didn’t answer. So the US and Germany may be united, finally, on Nord Stream 2 but we’re still not quite on the same page.

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