After a months-long feud with Republicans over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, President Joe Biden has issued sanctions against the company building it. Following the decision, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had blocked several Biden State Department nominees, applauded the decision and dropped his hold on the nominees.
Over the past several weeks, Russia has congregated troops and armored vehicles along the border with Ukraine, causing many western leaders to fear that Russia is planning an invasion. On Tuesday morning, Ukraine was reportedly advised that a Russian invasion could be “imminent.”
As the crisis has unfolded, the White House and Congress have prepared a series of proposed sanctions to dissuade Russia from sending its forces into Ukraine.
On Wednesday, Biden unveiled a sanction on the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that will go into effect immediately after months of refusing GOP demands to put the sanction in place.
The underground pipeline, built by the Swiss firm Nord Stream 2 AG at a cost of around $11 billion, would make it easier for Russia to transport its oil to Germany, and by extension to most of Europe.
A 2019 bill passed by the GOP Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump placed sanctions on the pipeline, which the United States considered a security risk. The bill called the pipeline a “tool of coercion,” as the United States feared that it could increase Russian influence in Western Europe by allowing Russia to withhold oil if its demands were not met.
The European Union, which would have made substantial economic gains from the pipeline, protested the sanctions, but they remained in place through the rest of Trump’s presidency.
In May 2021, Biden lifted these sanctions, a move that was roundly criticized by Republicans. Now, he has put the sanctions back in place.
“Today, I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers,” Biden said in a statement after announcing the sanctions. “These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”
After Biden initially lifted the sanctions, Ted Cruz retaliated by placing holds on several individuals that Biden had nominated to the State Department.
In January, Cruz put forward a bill that would have put similar sanctions in place; it failed to break past the 60-vote filibuster threshold, winning 55 yes votes and 44 no votes.
On his website, Cruz’s office announced, “After engaging with the administration and following today’s announcement, Sen. Cruz will lift these holds.”
“President Biden made the right decision today,” Cruz said in a statement. “Allowing Putin’s Nord Stream 2 to come online would have created multiple, cascading, and acute security crises for the United States and our European allies for generations to come. Today’s announcement is critical to preventing such scenarios.”
However, Cruz argued that the sanctions put in place on Wednesday must be made permanent in order to avoid these dire consequences.
“Putin believes that Nord Stream 2’s activation is a fait accompli now that it has been physically completed, and that any barriers or sanctions are only temporary,” Cruz argued. “His aggression toward Ukraine is based on that assessment, and the only way to change his decision calculus is to convince him Nord Stream 2 will never come online.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested that Russia is not committed to any set course toward Ukraine.
An invasion of Ukraine, Putin has indicated, can be avoided by a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO. Such an alliance, in Putin’s view, would threaten Russia’s national security by allowing its western adversaries to set up nuclear sites that could reach Moscow in minutes.
Western leaders have refused the demand, contending that Russia should not dictate who can and cannot join the Cold War-era alliance.
But still, Putin has said in recent public appearances that he is confident that conflict can be avoided and that the West can reach an agreement with Moscow.
Putin has not yet responded to Biden’s move to sanction Nord Stream 2.
With Cruz’s holds against Biden’s nominees lifted, they will be able to move toward confirmation by the Senate.