By Agence France-Presse
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to slap sanctions on companies working on Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline, sending a bill to President Donald Trump that is sure to antagonize European nations counting on the project’s natural gas.
The measure, inserted into a huge annual defense spending bill, passed 86 to eight after easily clearing the House of Representatives last week.
It aims to halt further construction of the $10.6 billion pipeline being built under the Baltic Sea and is set to double shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany.
The German-Russian Chamber of Commerce said last week the pipeline was important for the energy security of Europe and called for retaliatory sanctions on the US if the bill passes.
But U.S. lawmakers have warned it would send billions of dollars to Moscow and vastly increase President Vladimir Putin’s influence in Europe at a time of heightened tension.
The National Defense Authorization Act, a $738 billion package for 2020 that includes the sanctions, now heads to the White House, where Trump is expected to sign it.
The sanctions target pipe-laying vessels for Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, a Russia-Turkey pipeline, and include asset freezes and revocation of US visas for the contractors.
One major contractor that could be hit is Swiss-based Allseas, which has been hired by Russia’s Gazprom to build the offshore section.
The power of Gazprom and therefore the Russian state is at the center of concerns about the pipeline in the US and in eastern and central Europe.
Senator Ted Cruz has said halting Nord Stream 2 should be a major security priority for the United States and Europe alike.
«It’s far better for Europe to be relying on energy from the United States than to be fueling Putin and Russia and dependent on Russia and subject to economic blackmail,» he told the Senate last week.
But Senator Rand Paul, a fellow Republican, voted against the bill, objecting to its bid to «sanction NATO allies and potentially American energy companies,» Paul said of the project.
«The pipeline will be completed, and yet we want to jeopardize our relationship with our allies and with businesses both in Europe and America,» Paul said of the project.