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Washington (AFP) – The United States on Wednesday declared the Kremlin’s geopolitical energy project Nord Stream 2 “dead” after the latest sanctions imposed in retaliation for what the West calls the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The escalating US and European blows against the Russian economy came as Washington said Russia was about to send troops to Ukraine, where President Vladimir Putin has already ordered his troops to carry out “maintenance peace” in two separatist enclaves.
President Joe Biden’s targeting of Nord Stream 2 — one of energy-rich Russia’s most high-profile moves — comes on top of Western sanctions announced Tuesday against two Russian banks, Moscow’s sovereign debt, several oligarchs, and government officials. other measures.
Western capitals are hoping that the threats of economic damage are so great that they will prevent Putin from sending a huge military force camped next to Ukraine to invade beyond the borders of the two enclaves, which are already beyond the control of the Ukrainian government.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki kicked off her daily briefing with a chart illustrating the current severe weaknesses in Russia’s economy, stressing that this was before the “bite” of sanctions.
“This is just the beginning,” she said. “This is a vicious feedback loop that will get worse if Putin doesn’t defuse. So, as he considers the impact on his own economy, on his rich and wealthy oligarch friends, and on the Russian people, those are the facts.”
The mega project “does not happen”
Built to deliver Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea – bypassing the current overland route through Ukraine – Nord Stream 2 has long been controversial. It is fully built, but has not been commissioned and for now at least it will not be.
Although the pipeline is seen as an efficient way to deliver energy to the European Union, which relies heavily on Moscow, critics have always warned that it would strengthen Russia’s strategic grip on European nations, while deliberately weakening Ukraine.
Biden’s decision overturns his earlier warning about the controversy. He had previously prevented sanctions against the pipeline, arguing that construction was already more than 90% complete when he took office and that close ally Germany was keen to see the project completed.
However, with Russia shocking the world by massing troops on the Ukrainian border and Western leaders declaring that an invasion is indeed underway, Berlin and Washington are now on the same page.
Germany decided on Tuesday to suspend certification for the project’s completion and Biden announced on Wednesday “I have ordered my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its leaders.”
“By acting with the Germans the way we did, when we did and the way we did, we made sure that this is an $11 billion investment that is now a piece of steel, sitting at the bottom of the sea,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
PSAKI used the same image, when asked if Nord Stream 2 was simply shelved temporarily or scrapped for good.
“Currently it’s dead at the bottom of the sea,” she said. “It’s not happening, it’s not moving forward… This is where it’s happening.”
Doubts about Russian projects
US and European officials say more oligarchs, much bigger banks and potentially tough export controls on high-tech components to Russia are in the crosshairs if Putin doesn’t defuse.
“No financial institution is safe,” Psaki said, adding that sanctions against Putin personally are also “on the table.”
But complicating the task for Western capitals is the lingering uncertainty about Putin’s intentions.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that in addition to the continued buildup of tens of thousands of Russian troops and equipment just on the Ukrainian border, “we certainly believe additional Russian military forces are moving in.” in the separatist areas of eastern Ukraine.
However, he said “we can’t confirm with great precision, the numbers and what the formations are, what the capabilities are.”
The United States believes “we are potentially close to some kind of action,” Kirby said. “Again, what that action will be and exactly when we can’t be sure.”
So far, US sanctions threats have had no visible effect on Putin, but Psaki said the measures are “meant to have a chilling effect.”
Putin “will feel the brunt of being an outcast in the global community,” she said.
© 2022 AFP