The US has moved to sanction companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which transports gas directly from Russia to Germany. At a glance over German and European news, the US public justification for the sanctions seems to be to increase European energy independence.

This explanation appears incorrect to me -- the EU is already buying plenty of Russian gas which is transiting through central Europe. By removing transit countries, Russia would be enabled to continue gas deliveries even if conditions e.g. in the Ukraine or Belorussia were to deteriorate. Nord Stream reduces the leverage (and transit fees) of the transit countries.

Question: How are the sanctions communicated in the US media?

2 Answers 2


There doesn't seem to be a lot of coverage in US media, and what there is seems to be factual to a good extent reporting the source of the (apparently bipartisan) initiative and Trump's position (of supporting it). Bloomberg News (which is not favoring Trump) did recently (Dec 13) run a more extensive opinion piece by Leonid Bershidsky, which while stating the bare facts...

The sanctions — crafted by Senators Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat — have been attached to the 2020 National Defense Appropriations Act, which already has been approved by Congress; President Donald Trump has promised to sign it.

... also added comments highlighting the apparent tardiness and near pointless of the measures, identifying Ukraine as the main beneficiary of the move, as well as German irritation:

The long-threatened U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream 2, Russia’s $10.5 billion natural gas pipeline to Germany, will finally take effect next week, but their timing and design can only slow down the project’s now-certain completion. Even so, Ukraine, the primary injured party from the new pipeline, is grateful for small favors from Washington. [...]

As things stand, the punitive measures have the appearance of a vindictive gesture, a nuisance move that won’t change what comes next. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan of supplying gas both to Europe bypassing Ukraine and to China through the just-opened Power of Siberia pipeline can no longer be scuppered.

The likely Nord Stream 2 delay may even be beneficial for Russia, in a way. Competition from Middle Eastern and U.S. liquefied natural gas and warm weather have driven down the price of Russian pipeline gas in Europe. In the three months through September, the average gas price, $169.8 per 1,000 cubic meters, was 18% lower than in the preceding three months and 32% lower than a year before. The last time Gazprom faced such prices was in 2004. Increasing supplies in such a market situation would send prices tumbling even further.


No matter how carefully the U.S. sanctions are crafted to spare European allies, Germany is still irritated. On Thursday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas tweeted in response to the U.S. measures that “the European energy policy will be decided in Europe, not in the U.S. We fully reject external interference and extraterritorial sanctions.” Theoretically, the European Union could even retaliate by raising duties on American LNG.

But the U.S. sanctions, belated, weak and irritating to the German government as they are, still aren’t completely pointless. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office thanked U.S. Congress for them on Thursday, and while Ukraine routinely thanks Western governments for sanctioning Russia, this time there’s a specific reason for the gratitude. Ukraine and Russia are locked in a dispute over the future of Russian gas supplies through Ukraine’s pipeline system. The current contract runs out at the end of the year, and Ukraine wants a long-term agreement to replace it while Russia doesn’t want to commit itself.

About a month ago (November) RFE/RL presented the matter as a not terribly controversial within the US, extensively highlighting its bipartisanship, but also mentioning the Ukraine lobbying efforts and Trump's obvious play on putting US LNG interest first, nonetheless mentioning that Trump's Ukraine-related impeachment may have put pressure on him to show more support for the Ukrainians, perhaps in this matter too:

Members of the U.S. Congress appear unified on the need to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin's $11 billion project to deliver natural gas to Europe via a new pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea.

Bills that would impose sanctions on companies involved in Nord Stream 2 sailed through committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate last summer with overwhelming backing from both Democrats and Republicans.

Only a few companies in the world possess the technology to lay deep-sea pipelines and none of them is Russian, giving the bill its power to stop the project, Cruz said in September.

The committee's vote to approve the bill was 20-2, underscoring the overwhelming and bipartisan support for sanctions against the project in the Senate. The House Foreign Affairs Committee had passed a companion bill in June.

Members of Ukraine's parliament have sent several letters to top congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the leading Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Republican-led Senate. [...]

The Republican president said in June that he would consider imposing sanctions targeting Nord Stream 2, adding that Germany should instead buy U.S. LNG.

Trump has shown reluctance in the past to impose additional sanctions on Russia, but the effort to put broader measures in place along with those targeting Nord Stream 2 comes at a tricky time for the president in terms of policy involving Ukraine and Russia, and he may feel pressure to show support for Kyiv.

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    This answer seems to suggest that the US media did not cover the reasons for this strong interference with the trades of an ally at all, which seems unlikely?
    – M. Stern
    Dec 21, 2019 at 17:44

There are at least two sources that mention negative effects on Russia as the main motivation for sanctions.

From bloomberg.com:

Cruz argued completion of the pipeline would give Russian President Vladimir Putin more leverage in the region and “generate billions of dollars for Russia that will be used to fund military aggression against America and against Europe.”

From Financial Times:

The decision marks the latest attempt to punish Moscow for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

Jeanne Shaheen, a Democratic senator who co-sponsored the bill, said it would send “an unmistakable, bipartisan message from Congress to Vladimir Putin that the US will not sit idly by while the Kremlin seeks to further spread its malign influence”.

Ted Cruz, a Republican co-sponsor, added that it would prevent “Putin from leveraging billions of dollars that could be used to fuel Russian aggression”.

As OP already noted, some suggest the pipeline would pose a threat to the European energy security, but I could not find details on why this would be the case.

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