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US Sanctions and Nord Stream 2: Now Is the Time for Europe to Act

US Capitol east front, by Martin Falbisoner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

This week the House of Representatives followed the Senate in voting overwhelmingly to impose broad sanctions on Russia for behavior deemed unacceptable to the United States, particularly the alleged cyber hacking of the US election. The bill targets, among other things, any company that contributes to the renovation or construction of Russia's export pipelines, and Nord Stream 2 is specifically judged to have detrimental impacts on the European Union's energy security and energy reforms in the Ukraine.

It is notable that the bill targets only pipelines originating in Russia. Those that merely pass through, such as the Caspian Pipeline which carries oil from Kazakhstan to Europe, would be exempted. Others bringing gas from the Caspian to Europe are entirely beyond the reach of this bill.

Before a bill becomes law it must first obtain the signature of the president. Given President's Trump's oft stated desire for better relations with Russia and personal admiration for President Putin one might conclude that Trump would veto the measure. Indeed this was surely his first inclination. But both houses, which voted 98-2 in the Senate and 419-3 in the House have signaled to the White House that they would override Trump's veto with a 2/3s majority, which they would easily win. Thus Trump would be dealt a humiliating defeat if he chose to exercise his veto authority at this juncture.

All of this suggests the United States will be entering a new low in its relationship wit the European Union and the Russian Federation. Possibly. But since in the wake of the vote Congress has made clear that it will not be imposing unilateral sanctions on Russia as it has done in the past, but discretionary ones that will only be levied in coordination with Europe.

Since Trump's election Europe has not been reticent about expressing its opinion on issues that affect its interests. This state of affairs will certainly continue during the weeks and months ahead, providing an opportunity to weigh in and influence the ultimate outcome of any US sanctions against Russian export pipelines, including Nord Stream 2.

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