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The Biden administration has waived sanctions on a company building a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The US also lifted sanctions on its executive – an ally of Russia’s Vladimir Putin – who leads the firm behind the Nord Stream 2 project. The move was revealed in a report on Russian sanctions delivered to Congress by the Department of State.
Critics believe the pipeline is a major geopolitical prize for the Kremlin.
The project, which will take gas from the Russian Arctic under the Baltic Sea to Germany, is already more than 95 percent complete.
The Department of State report claims that Nord Stream 2 AG and its chief executive, Matthias Warnig, a former East German intelligence officer, were involved in sanctionable activity.
However, it concludes that it is in the US national interest to waive the sanctions.
According to the head of Oxford-based think-tank Euro Intelligence, Wolfgang Munchau, though, there is an ulterior motive behind the Biden administration’s move.
He explained in a recent report: “What we see instead is that the US wants to co-opt Germany into its China policy, and is willing to drop its opposition to Nord Stream 2 as an advance.
“But it is far from clear that the Germans will go for it.
“The Greens are the party most closely aligned with US policy on China and Russia.
“But it is not a given that the Greens will be strong enough in the next coalition to force this issue, nor that they will want to pay the political capital needed to do this, given their domestic policy priorities.
“Our conclusion is that this decision is based on a misjudgement of German politics, which bodes ill for the chances of a successful Biden administration foreign policy.
The US also tried to convince South Korean President Moon Jae-in to agree to a strong statement of concern about China during a bilateral meeting in Washington yesterday.
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The White House wanted Mr Jae-in to back robust language in a joint statement issued during the summit, as part of its strategy to work with allies to counter China, according to five people familiar with the situation.
But four of the people familiar with the talks said Mr Jae-in was reluctant to include language that would trigger a sharp response from Beijing.
While South Korea has a security alliance with the US, it has long resisted pressure to more overtly confront China.
During the Trump administration, it pushed back against US requests to stop South Korean companies from working with Huawei, the Chinese telecoms champion.
Seoul remains wary of provoking another backlash after South Korean companies faced Chinese boycotts in 2017 in response to the deployment of a US Thaad missile defence system.
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Victor Cha, a South Korea expert at Georgetown University and former White House official told the Financial Times: “South Koreans have nightmares about more Thaad-type sanctions.
“Seoul doesn’t want to make the hard choices on China, but not making a decision — hedging — is not a long-term strategy. It weakens the alliance and pisses off China.”
Mr Biden has put a premium on strengthening alliances to create more leverage over China.
At his summit with Yoshihide Suga last month, the US President convinced the Japanese Prime Minister to issue a statement of support for Taiwan in the face of Chinese aggression.
Mr Suga agreed to the language, which was the first such statement in five decades.
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