The White House defended itself from criticism that it should have opposed the completion of an underwater natural gas pipeline between Russia and Western Europe hours after President Joe Biden concluded his video call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is "leverage for the West," according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Critics contend Biden waiving sanctions on the project, intended to placate Germany after relations were strained during former President Donald Trump's administration, also removed a disincentive for Russia to invade Ukraine, one of the countries through which it has transport fuel.
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"The gas is not currently flowing through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which means it's not operating, which means that it's not leverage for Putin," Sullivan told reporters Tuesday. "If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through the pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine."
Nord Stream 2 has been the subject of "intensive discussions" between the United States and Germany "in the context of a potential invasion," according to Sullivan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who briefed reporters after Sullivan spoke from the podium, defended the administration's position from lawmakers, for example, who argue Russia deploys gas as a geopolitical weapon. While declining to provide specifics, Psaki repeated that Germany supported the U.S. and other European allies threatening to use "a range of economic tools and options" should Russia invade.
"What we're talking about here and we're trying to achieve here is a deterrence of action that would be detrimental and, of course, hurt the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine," she said. "What I was referencing is the fact that there are some who are suggesting that this would deter, and our assessment is that it would not," she added of the pipeline.
Biden and Putin spoke for two hours Tuesday, their discussion focusing mostly on the Russian military buildup on the border of Ukraine. Putin has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops in the region, the largest personnel and equipment presence since his 2014 annexation of Crimea.
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The Russian readout of the conversation underscored the importance of "security guarantees" to the Kremlin, including opposition to Ukraine's desire to be admitted into NATO.