President Joe Biden could be grappling with a mutiny among Senate Democrats over Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as he readies to speak with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa indicated in a Fox News Sunday interview that a measure to override Biden’s decision to allow the controversial pipeline between Russia and Germany could have support from her colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Former Defense Department official Michèle Flournoy, who appeared alongside her, said the president is still looking at ways to punish Putin over Russia’s lightning-fast buildup of troops at the Ukrainian border – and sanctions on energy and the economy aren’t off the table.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, completed in September after, stands to strengthen Russia’s leverage against the rest of Europe. Russia is Europe’s largest source of natural gas, accounting for 35 percent of the continent’s use.
Putin’s influence in the region stands to rise amid Russia’s increasingly hostile stance toward Ukraine over its growing closeness with countries in the European Union and NATO. The pipeline would allow Germany to bypass an existing natural gas route through Ukraine, weakening the former Soviet state’s economy and its footing against Russia.
Republican Senator Joni Ernst and former Obama-era Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy discussed Biden’s upcoming meeting with Putin with Fox host Chris Wallace
US officials under Presidents Obama and Trump opposed the pipeline, but in July Biden formally suspended sanctions over it – though Ernst said on Sunday that the Senate may have the votes to put them back.
‘What is the chance that Congress could override the president and block the pipeline, and that you could get Democrats and Republicans joining together to override president Biden?’ host Chris Wallace asked.
The Iowa Republican said she couldn’t speak for the House of Representatives but ‘I do believe that there is a coalescence around these types of actions in the United States Senate.’
‘Democrats are concerned, Republicans are concerned, and what we don’t want to do is allow President Putin to continue with the pipeline, especially as he is preparing perhaps to invade Ukraine,’ Ernst said.
The measure is included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, though Biden administration officials have been putting pressure on Democrats to roll it back and arguing it would alienate Germany from the US.
The annual Pentagon budget passed the House earlier this year and is currently working its way through the Senate.
Flournoy, who was Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under former President Barack Obama, said she didn’t believe sanctions on Nord Stream 2 were necessary.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was completed in September after Biden lifted US sanctions against it in July
Biden and Putin are set to speak on Tuesday amid international concern over Russia’s military buildup at its border with Ukraine
‘To implement very severe sanctions, we have to work our European partners- and that includes Germany. I would urge the Senate to think about that,’ she said.
‘If you get satisfaction on blocking the Nord Stream 2, it might actually undermine the effectiveness of the sanctions that the president would be hopefully threatening to put place against Putin.’
The international effort would produce ‘an escalating set of sanctions that it goes beyond what’s been done before,’ she said.
‘I’m sure they’re looking at sanctioning the banking system, sanctioning the energy sector.’
Biden on Friday said the US had developed the ‘most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin.’
The US and its European allies have made no public mention of any plans to respond militarily themselves if Putin sends troops massed along the border into Ukraine.
Instead, Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week promised financial pain – ‘high impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past.’
The United States over the past decade already has put a range of sanctions in place against Russian entities and individuals, many of them over Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and its support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014. US sanctions also have sought to punish Russia for election interference, malicious cyber activities and human rights abuses.
Ukrainian forces are preparing to repel any offensive, with the government appealing to the international community for help in combatting any Russian incursion into Ukrainian territrory (Servicemen of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces attend military drills in Zhytomyr Region, Ukraine November 21, 2021)
Tens of thousands of Russian troops have amassed near the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent invasion. (Pictured: Marines of the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy train in the zone of obstacles during military exercises at the Khmelevka firing ground in the Kaliningrad region, Russia November 24, 2021)
A militant of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic walks at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in the outskirts of Kirovsk in Luhansk Region, Ukraine December 1, 2021.