U.S. senator Bob Menendez says the new Russia sanctions bill that he is cosponsoring will not affect the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany underneath the Baltic Sea.
The bipartisan bill that would impose drastic new sanctions on Russia over its meddling in U.S. elections and aggression against Ukraine is the latest congressional effort to push U.S. President Donald Trump to ratchet up Washington's response to Moscow.
It was introduced on February 13 by Democrat Menendez and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, as well as other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez is the top Democrat on the Committee.
Menendez told a media briefing in Brussels on February 18 that “there's no specific provision here on Nord Stream 2, let me start off with that, in terms of the sanctions that we have envisioned, and we seek to have a close collaboration with Europe on perfecting sanctions that can hit our ultimate target which is Russia for its violation of international law.”
Nord Stream 2, scheduled to be completed in 2019, will run directly from Russia, under the Baltic Sea, into Germany, bypassing several European transit countries, helping Moscow avoid the transit fee disputes and other nettlesome politics that have plagued its existing pipeline network.
Some European leaders fear that without legal changes, the pipeline will deepen the continent’s dependence on Russian gas, and give Moscow more negotiating leverage over unrelated political issues.
Menendez said that “our friends in Europe have to think about their security and the balancing of their security with economic issues that they often face with Russia, including the question of energy. That's why working with Europe to diversify their energy sources, I think it is incredibly important, so that they're not dependent upon [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Russia.”
The bill cosponsored by Menendez is a tougher version of legislation he and Graham backed last year but which failed to pass.
It includes sanctions that would target Russian banks that support efforts to interfere in foreign elections as well as individuals deemed to "facilitate illicit and corrupt activities, directly or indirectly, on behalf of Putin."
It also envisages strict measures against Russia's oil and gas sector, including imposing sanctions against people who provide goods, services, or financing to support the development of crude oil in the country.
A similar bill, also backed by Menendez, was voted down in the Senate last year, but he believes the new package has a bigger chance of passing either as a whole or as amendments to other legislation, in the face of growing bipartisan anger over Moscow's interference in other countries' affairs.
Trump would have to sign the bill before it became law.
“I think there is a growing sentiment in the Congress, having seen what Russia has continued to do, including most recently in the Kerch Strait, as being a continual violation of the international rules,” Menendez said.
In 2017, Congress passed a sanctions law known as CAATSA, with strong support from both Democrats and Republicans who overruled Trump's reluctance to impose punitive measures on Moscow.