REUTERS

Members of the bipartisan Congressional Ukraine Caucus have expressed concern regarding Russia's efforts to circumvent Congressional sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, urging State Secretary Mike Pompeo to "urgently apply sanctions on Russian entities should they engage in pipelaying or provide technical support.

"Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. longstanding interests in European energy security and opposition to Nord Stream 2 remains firm, and we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect Ukrainian sovereignty and European allies and partners from malign Russian influence," Ukrainian Caucus members wrote in a letter to Pompeo.

"Russian dictator Vladimir Putin seeks to sow discord in the Transatlantic alliance through hybrid warfare operations," the letter reads. "This includes weaponizing energy to weaken democratic institutions and solidarity through the export of strategic corruption."

Members of Congress recall that in 2006 and 2009 Russian authorities cut off gas flows through Ukraine during the winter leading to hardship for Ukraine and also neighboring countries, including Bulgaria and Romania.

This year, the Kremlin has attempted to coerce Belarus into forming a union state to chart a path to keep Putin in power beyond Russia's own Presidential term by engaging in a cutoff of oil shipments.

"More recently, Russian authorities seek to complete Nord Stream 2 as a political and economic weapon to cut off critical gas transit through Ukraine, a nation fighting for its survival against Russian aggression and occupation of its regions, as well as to increase its leverage over Europe," the letter says. "That is why several eastern European, Nordic and Baltic countries have joined the United States in expressing their concerns with the project."

It is recalled that the U.S. Congress "on an overwhelming bipartisan basis established the means to apply targeted sanctions on pipelaying companies to halt the pipeline and protect Ukraine's security."

"Unfortunately, it appears that Russian authorities believe Western officials are distracted by COVID-19 and currently seek to circumvent these sanctions and finish the pipeline through use of two Russian pipelaying vessels: the Akademik Cherskiy owned by STIF (previously Gazflot) and the Fortuna owned by Russian-owned MRTS," members of Congress note. "These ships are currently docked near the German Port of Mukran and could potentially be joined by other maritime technology service vessels in the future."

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The Kremlin is hoping that by fast-tracking the completion of the project, the U.S. will fail to respond in due speed, the authors of the letter stress, adding that they remain optimistic this will not be the case given continued U.S. bipartisan opposition to the pipeline.

"While we applaud the German energy regulator's decision to apply EU energy anti-monopoly laws to Nord Stream 2, any gas transit through the pipeline would create incentives to reduce transit through Ukraine, weakening that country's sovereignty and ability to defend itself against Russian aggression," Congress members note.

"For these reasons, we respectfully urge you, in consultation with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to apply NDAA sanctions on STIF and MRTS and any other firm should they engage in pipelaying or provide technical support, to protect Ukraine and our European allies and partners from this tool in the Kremlin's broader tool-kit of malign influence," the letter reads.

Members of Congress also stressed the need for the U.S. to continue to provide Europe with alternative energy source options and pursue with diplomatic efforts to support European energy diversification efforts through the Three Seas Initiative, and to promote member nation and private investments to move forward with joint financing of infrastructure projects.