“By the time Biden took office, the pipeline was nearly complete,” said my colleague Michael Crowley, who covered Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Germany last week. “Biden calculated that restoring relations with Berlin after the Trump era was far too important to risk with a last-ditch and potentially futile effort to stop the project.”
Instead, Biden waived sanctions — which Congress established starting in 2017 — on companies that worked on the pipeline. It was too late to prevent completion, he decided.
Trump’s European policy is hardly the only reason that the pipeline exists. Discussions about it began before he was president, reflecting decades of close ties between Germany and Russia, as Katrin notes. But Trump’s foreign policy diminished American influence in Europe — and, if anything, sent signals that the U.S. favored closer ties between Russia and Western Europe.
Leaders across much of Eastern Europe are not happy about these developments. Ukraine’s foreign minister has accused Berlin of effectively “encouraging” Russian aggression. A senior Lithuanian official said that Germany was “making a big strategic mistake and putting its reputation at risk.”
Putin, on the other hand, seems thrilled. He has embarked on a campaign to weaken democracies and strengthen autocracies, both in his own region (as in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus) and elsewhere (through election misinformation campaigns in the U.S. and Western Europe). Despite this aggression, NATO is not unified in confronting him, giving Putin more leeway to act as he chooses.
“He well recognizes that Europe’s main power base is France, Germany and Britain,” Tobias Ellwood, a member of Britain’s Parliament who helps set military policy, told The Washington Post. “If these three countries are united, the rest of Europe follows. If you can sow divisions among these three, then there’s no leadership, there’s no coordination and there’s no unity.”
The divisions even extend to internal U.S. politics. This week, Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who represents New Jersey in the House, tweeted: “My office is now getting calls from folks who say they watch Tucker Carlson and are upset that we’re not siding with Russia in its threats to invade Ukraine, and who want me to support Russia’s ‘reasonable’ positions.”