The German government has confirmed that the Biden administration will waive sanctions on the company overseeing the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe and its chief executive, verifying earlier reports in the Financial Times on May 19.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says the move is "a constructive step" that gives the US and German governments another three months to resolve the dispute that has strained ties.
Maas hailed the decision, saying it showed the US was “taking into account the really excellent relations that we’ve built up with the Biden administration”.
The US State Department is about to send its regular 90-day report to Congress listing the entities involved in the pipeline that will be sanctioned and the list does not include the Russian company that owns the project.
Maas said that the list would include the Russian ships laying the pipeline, but that a “presidential waiver” would spare Nord Stream 2 AG, the company overseeing the project, as well as Matthias Warnig, its chief executive, who is a German national as well as a long-time friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The decision has been taken as a sign that US President Joe Biden is more concerned with mending relations with Germany than punishing Russia. “It’s an expression of the fact that Germany is an important partner for the US, one that it can count on in the future,” Maas said.
Nord Stream 2 was “the only issue that [Germany and the US] have fundamental differences about”, and the hope in both countries was that the project “will no longer strain the really excellent co-operation [between us] in any way whatsoever”, he added as cited by the FT.
The timing of the announcement is yet another sign of a sophistication in the new US administration diplomacy, which is trying to prepare the ground for a potential summit between Biden and Putin in June.
The leak of the decision not to sanction Nord Stream 2 comes on the day before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to meet his US counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Reykjavik for the first top-level meeting between the two administrations, where the first round of talks will start on laying out the ground for co-operation between the two rivals.
The decision can also be taken as yet another signal to the Kremlin by Washington that it is prepared to make concessions if a “stable and sustainable” relationship can be built.