Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed President Joe Biden for waiving sanctions designed to stop Russia from building a major natural gas pipeline to Europe.
During a June 4 interview with Axios, Zelensky said that the Biden administration was endangering Ukraine’s national security and empowering Russia by waiving Trump-era sanctions on companies involved in the construction of Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that would move natural gas from Russia to Germany and double the capacity of the original Nord Stream pipeline.
“We understand that this is a weapon, a real weapon, and I speak openly about it. A weapon in the hands of the Russian Federation, and it is not very understandable, I feel, and definitely not expected, that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States because it is an exemplary civilization, an exemplary democracy in the world,” Zelensky said, according to Axios. Biden’s decision to waive sanctions “is definitely not aimed at supporting Ukraine.”
On Friday, the same day that Zelensky spoke with Axios, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the completion of Nord Stream 2 during a speech at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. Putin said that the pipeline could begin shipping gas within 10 days.
“Two and a half hours ago, the laying of the first string of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was successfully completed … Work on the entire length has been completed, including the offshore section,” Putin said, according to the Financial Times.
Experts say Nord Stream 2 will give Russia substantially more leverage over Europe while isolating Ukraine, which has previously acted as a middle-man in control of much of Russia’s access to European markets. Nord Stream 2 would allow Russia to work around Ukraine and ship more natural gas to European markets through Germany, which supported the pipeline project, according to CNBC.
Ukraine is currently at risk of invasion by Russia, and Ukraine has relied on the United States as well as its own economic leverage with Europe to keep Russia at bay. The deterrent may have weakened in recent months, however. Earlier this year, the U.S. military sounded alarm after Russia bolstered its forces in eastern Ukraine, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014.
The Biden administration waived sanctions designed to hamper or scuttle construction of Nord Stream 2 in May, citing U.S. strategic interests. At the time, the pipeline was nearly completed, and interfering with its construction may have harmed the United States’ relationship with Germany. Zelensky recognized the potential pitfall but asserted that the U.S. should have intervened anyway.
“I understand that the relationship between the United States and Germany is very important. I wouldn’t want to intervene between these two esteemed countries. However, how many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?” Zelensky said.
The U.S. and Germany “understand fully well what a substantial advantage [Nord Stream 2] will be in the hands of Russia … at the very same time when we are doing all we can to defend our country,” Zelensky added. He said that Nord Stream 2 undermines Ukraine’s standing with Russia, which depends on Ukraine controlling Russia’s access to European natural gas markets.
“We already have a pipeline of our own. … As long as this pipeline is functioning, Russia is obliged to talk to Ukraine, it is obliged to talk to Europe, at the same table. If they build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, circumventing Ukraine, it is clear that the time will come when Ukraine will no longer have this leverage. Everybody is fully aware of this,” Zelensky said.
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