On NBC News' Full Romney Interview: 'The President Needs To Stop And Reset' at about 01:57: US Senator Mitt Romney says that he'd shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline now:

Q: ...So, what is it that the US could do (non-militarily) that could really convince Putin he should back down?

Romney: Well the clearest thing we could do is to make sure he doesn't have the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. As you know that's a gas pipeline that provides extraordinary to Putin and to Russia. It bypasses Ukraine, and the big mistake we made is to allow him to build that - to bypass Ukraine (as we should have)

We should let him know that Nord Stream 2 pipeline is not going to operate. If he does any action to overthrow the government in Ukraine, that's getting shut down. I'd shut it down now as a matter of fact, a huge error not to have done so already.

While there's nothing about Nord Stream 2 in Wikipedia's Political positions of Mitt Romney, Romney's positions are generally either steady or slow to evolve, so it's not likely that he's used this NBC interview to announce a new position.

Question: With what justification and by what means would Mitt Romney "shut it down now" (Nord Stream II pipeline)? What is his articulated position on both how this should and could be done.

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    There are three ways to stop it. Blackmail Germany, talk to the EU, talk to Germany. The German Social Democrats are for Nord Stream 2 because they remember Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik two generations ago -- talking and trading with the Soviets to reduce Cold War risks. The Greens and FDP, coalition partners of the current government, are considerably more critical. Of course Nord Stream 2 does not operate yet. So the quoted statement is based on a false premise.
    – o.m.
    Jan 17, 2022 at 5:48
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    @o.m. aren't energy demands an important reason also? As I understand it, German industry has a need for cheap energy. So if prices stay high as they would in the absence of Russian gas, then industry becomes less competitive. As for the quote, projects can be shut down before they become operational.
    – JJJ
    Jan 17, 2022 at 6:14
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    @JJJ, Germany and the rest of Europe are already buying plenty of Russian gas, and many of those pipelines run through the Ukraine. That gives Ukraine a veto power over the sales, and Russia would like to take that leverage away. Mixing this facet with the import sources in general is in my opinion a mistake.
    – o.m.
    Jan 17, 2022 at 11:31
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    @o.m. I edited my answer to talk a bit more about the energy situation and how the US could try to influence German decisions. Feel free to leave a comment there if you think something is confusing or wrong.
    – JJJ
    Jan 17, 2022 at 18:50
  • @JJJ I've managed to read all the way through your very thorough answer once so far and will do so again; this kind of geopolitical gamesmanship make my brain hurt, but it seems I've asked for it! :-)
    – uhoh
    Jan 18, 2022 at 2:37

2 Answers 2


Motivation for US involvement in European energy policy

In 2021 Senate Republicans proposed an amendment to sanction companies involved with Nord Stream 2. The amendment was proposed by U.S. Senator Risch who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His web page contains a statement on the amendment which reads (only the last paragraph which talks about Nord Stream 2 directly is quoted below; I emphasized the parts which refer to Ukraine or the Russian buildup of troops more specifically):

“The final bill should have included my amendment to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine by stopping the Nord Stream 2 (NS2) pipeline. As 100,000 Russian troops amass at Ukraine’s border, it is imperative we use every tool at our disposal to put pressure on Russia and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Stopping NS2, when roughly a third of Russia’s budget comes from oil and gas, would show Putin Congress is serious about consequences for his actions. I will keep working to stop NS2 and the threat it poses to Ukrainian and transatlantic security.”

That statement was released on December 15th 2021. The interview with Senator Romney dates from January of 2022. Considering that they are from the same party, it seems reasonable that Senator Romney is in favor of sanctioning those involved with the pipeline as way of reprimanding Russia for moving troops near its border with Ukraine. Indeed that's what the excerpt above refers to.

If we look back further though, the US position (there used to be at least some bipartisanship about the issue) has been against Nord Stream 2 for longer. A Reuters article published in July of 2019 reads (quoted the first paragraph and the positions of some individual senators):

A U.S. Senate committee passed a bill on Wednesday to slap sanctions on companies and individuals involved in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that the Trump administration says would strengthen Moscow’s economic grip on Europe.

“Russia has a history of using energy as a weapon,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz, one of the measure’s sponsors.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democratic Senator Tom Udall were the panel members who voted against the bill. Paul complained that it sanctioned U.S. allies and harmed international companies that employ thousands of Americans. The bill’s backers disputed this.

Senator Bob Menendez, the panel’s top Democrat, said he backed the bill, but that it was important to reinforce U.S. ties with Berlin. Germany says Nord Stream is important to its economy, Europe’s largest, and opposes sanctions on the commercial project.

Republican Senator Jim Risch, committee chairman, said the panel would also consider another bill, the bipartisan Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA), although the timing was not clear.

So Romney's comments could also be supported by the (somewhat) bipartisan US position against the pipeline on the grounds that it increases European energy dependency on Russia.

Yet another motivation which critics of US involvement in EU energy policy will point out is that cheap Russian gas makes LNG imports from the US unnecessary. As an article by Natural Gas Intelligence in 2020 points out:

The start-up of the 5.3 Bcf/d NS2 could curb a potential recovery of U.S. LNG exports even if the Covid-19 pandemic recedes next year, said BTU Analytics LLC energy analyst Connor McLean.

“If Nord Stream 2 comes online as expected, the influx of supply into Europe could place further pressure on a U.S. LNG recovery in 2021,” McLean said in a recent post on the firm’s website.

How the US can influence European energy policy

Unilateral action (sanctions)

So one way we already saw happen is through the use of sanctions. In November of 2021 the US imposed sanctions against a Russian company involved with the pipeline. According to Reuters:

The United States on Monday imposed further sanctions in connection with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, targeting Russia-linked Transadria Ltd. and its vessel.

The State Department submitted a report to the U.S. Congress listing two vessels and an entity, Transadria Ltd., involved in the pipeline, Blinken said, but did not give details on the second vessel.

Blinken is a Democrat, so the above is again indicative of some bipartisanship of US opposition to the pipeline. Of course the sanctions mentioned above are very minor, as they only target a Russian company.

The Republicans had their own bill (full text here) in the senate last week. The Democrats opposed the bill wanting to impose sanctions only if Russia decided to invade Ukraine. According to CNN:

Cruz believes that the newly constructed 750-mile pipeline, which is not yet operating, would empower Putin and allow him to hold dangerous leverage over Europe by controlling the flow of much-needed natural gas there. The Ukrainian government had come out in support of his plan.

Cruz argued that if sanctions aren't enforced, it would be existential for Ukraine. "And days or weeks or months from now -- If we turn on the television set and see Russian tanks in the streets of Kiev, the reason will be that the United States Senate heard the pleas of our Ukrainian allies and we turned a deaf ear to them. I pray that we don't do so. The eyes of history are upon us and this body, Republicans and Democrats, to rise to the occasion."

Under the previous US administration there were some legislative efforts to counter Nord Stream 2 as well. Those mostly seemed to employ sanctions to achieve their goal. Rather than going through them in full, I'll quote a July 2020 parliamentary question by Dietmar Köster MEP which summarizes the situation:

On 4 June 2020, United States Senators introduced a new bill for draconian retroactive sanctions against European companies working with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Before the US enacted its previous sanctions law (Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act – PEESA) against Nord Stream 2 in December 2019, the Commission and the External Action Service remained passive until it was too late, and the bill was passed. In 2017, when the US adopted its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) legislation, which referred to Nord Stream 2, the Commission managed to protect European companies better: before the US legislative process was concluded, President Jean-Claude Juncker stated that if Europe’s ‘concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days’. Prior to that, a Commission spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as criticising the proposed sanctions.

Talking to Germany (diplomacy)

This is the option the Democrats are going for at the moment. According to Reuters:

"Even as the administration continues to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including via our sanctions, we continue to work with Germany and other allies and partners to reduce the risks posed by the pipeline to Ukraine and frontline NATO and EU countries and to push back against harmful Russian activities, including in the energy sphere," Blinken said.

Not a lot of concrete results I would say. The pipeline has been underway for years and the current stance is as follows, from the same Reuters article:

The Biden administration has waived sanctions on the pipeline's operator and reached an agreement with Germany in July over the pipeline. Germany agreed to take action if Russia uses energy as a weapon in its relations with Ukraine, but the pact did not provide a specific criteria for how that would be judged.

When Trump was president he raised the issue of Nord Stream 2 in his diplomatic efforts as well. Now that there's no Republican president, I don't think they are in a position to pursue this kind of approach.

The problem with the diplomatic option in this case seems to be that the US (and in a way Germany too) lack(s) leverage. To better understand that, we need to understand the European energy situation. One analysis by former EU diplomat Albrecht Rothacher reads as reported by DW:

Germany played a risky game with Russia during a very tricky transition from fossil fuels. "The German exit from nuclear, coal and finally oil plays perfectly into Russia's hands, as renewables are in no position to satisfy increased demand," Rothacher said.

"The EU's dependency on Russian gas has increased from 40% to now 53% from last year alone, as the Netherlands have ceased production and US liquefied gas is shipped to East Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan), where it fetches even higher prices. Plus, apart from in Poland, there are no LNG terminals along the North Sea or Baltic Sea coasts," he added.

This is exacerbated by the fact that EU institutions exclude energy and foreign policy from their executive remit and member states pursue often conflicting policies. Europe is the frontrunner in climate action, but its decarbonization push is too slow to outpace changes in the global energy sector.

Back in 2015 this situation was different. At the time Germany was only dependent on Russia for 35% of its gas usage. According to an article in Forbes:

But in 2015 Germany imported 35% of its gas from Russia. About the same amount, 34%, came from Norway. 29% came from The Netherlands.

But there is reason to believe that the Russian proportion will go up. Germany is the world’s biggest natural gas importer, having to bring 92% of the gas it consumes in from outside the country. The few gas fields that Germany has will likely be completely depleted within the next decade

With the prospect of an increased demand for Russian gas during the transition to more renewable energy sources, Nord Stream 2 isn't a project Germany can give up on easily.

Giving up on Nord Stream 2 means having to import energy from elsewhere. One alternative would be to import LNG from the US, but that's much more expensive. Importing different forms of energy might work, though that may require changes in machinery which currently use gas rather than electricity.

I should also say that (some) experts point out the existing pipelines offer enough capacity. According to DW in December of 2021:

"There is ample capacity on existing routes, but the Kremlin has made a decision for months to exacerbate the natural gas scarcity in EU storages by declining to book additional capacity beyond contracted levels on these routes," Benjamin L. Schmitt, Harvard University researcher and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, told DW. This, he argues, has bolstered claims that Russia is using its gas might to force regulators in Germany and Brussels to speed up the certification of NS2.

If all of that is true then the US should point its diplomatic efforts at Russia instead. That's easier said than done because the conflict is based around tensions between the US and Russia.

Considering all of the above, Germany doesn't have a lot of control over the situation either. They can continue with Nord Stream 2 or they could stop it (temporarily). In any case, Russia determines how much gas they transport through the existing pipelines. Germany doesn't have leverage to stop Nord Stream 2 and force Russia to supply more over the existing pipelines.

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    Excellent on "justification", was there anything there on "means", i.e. how they proposed to "shut it down" both from a physical and legal standpoint?
    – uhoh
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:40
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    @uhoh I think mostly they've been talking about sanctions. Those could be targeted at Russia but also the companies involved with the pipeline project (some Russian and some European companies). I think the idea is that if the project costs those companies more than it benefits them then they'll pull out. Whether that works in practice, I don't know. European countries (especially those that need the pipeline) might think of that as overstepping causing them to retaliate, etc. So it's hard to predict how it plays out.
    – JJJ
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:49
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    I see, it's not like a bunch of senators will go there and turn off some valve in a "shut it down" photo op. Ya the ability to shut down a source of revenue by economic sanctions is questionable, sounds like high stakes poker.
    – uhoh
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:51
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    @uhoh I don't know, I think most of it's underwater so if they do it'd have to be at one of the end points. Russia probably isn't going to welcome them. Germany needs that gas, so they won't like it either. They might convince one of the German ministers though which is quite surprising.
    – JJJ
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:58
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    Without a real plan and proposed means, then perhaps it's more bluster than substance; not that that's never happened before in politics.
    – uhoh
    Jan 17, 2022 at 2:59

It’s possible that Romney believes the “shutting down” would be achieved by diplomatic pressure on Germany, who certainly has the ability and authority to do so. Reuters reported in December that the White House briefed members of Congress on that possibility and suggested Germany had already agreed to do so in the event of invasion. As a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Romney is highly likely to have been present for the briefing. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/us-has-understanding-with-germany-shut-nord-stream-2-pipeline-if-russia-invades-2021-12-07/

U.S. officials have told members of Congress they have an understanding with Germany about shutting down the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior congressional aide told Reuters on Tuesday.

The White House said Germany had made commitments about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea in the event of aggressive acts by Russia.

The article also suggests the possibility of unilateral U.S. sanctions on any company doing business with the Nord Stream 2, which would be so crippling it would effectively shut down the pipeline by making it very nonprofitable to operate.


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