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US Congress moves Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill ahead of Trump, Putin summit

Highlights

The US Congress has begun moving sanctions legislation that would target construction of Russian pipelines, while analysts believe the upcoming meeting between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin could trigger more.

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The House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee approved Wednesday the Protecting European Energy Security Act, HR 3206, a bill which would impose sanctions on anyone who sells, leases, or provides pipe-laying vessels used in the construction of an Russian-origin energy pipeline that makes landfall in Germany or Turkey.

The sanctions are specifically aimed at Russia's Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream pipelines.

"By targeting the pipe-laying ships we would stop the work in its tracks, but not allow for unintended consequences of our allies in Europe," Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican-Illinois, said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.

Kinzinger is the sponsor of the bill, one of at least four Russia sanctions bills that could be voted on by the full House and Senate as soon as this summer, according to congressional aides.

Other bills include one introduced by Senator John Barrasso, Republican-Wyoming, which would mandate sanctions on Russian energy export pipelines; one from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican-South Carolina, which would prohibit support of Russian crude oil production and transactions in new energy projects supported by the Russian government; and one from Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat-Maryland, which would mandate new sanctions in response to Russia's election interference.

How aggressively Congress pushes these bills may depend on Trump's meeting with Putin, scheduled for Friday at the G20 Summit in Japan.

The interactions between Trump and Putin "whether they be overly friendly or overtly frosty -- could also spur Congressional pursuit of new Russia sanctions," wrote analysts with ClearView Energy Partners in a recent note. Trump's July 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki angered several Republicans when Trump appeared to side with Putin over US intelligence officials.

"We think a similar event -- or, alternatively, another protracted tete-a-tete between the two leaders without U.S. officials in attendance -- could add to sanctions momentum on Capitol Hill," ClearView analysts wrote.

Earlier this month, Trump said he was "looking at" possible sanctions on companies involved in Russian energy export pipelines, but seemingly downplayed the issue.

"Germany made a decision to buy a tremendous amount of their energy from Russia," Trump said at a June 12 press conference. "Whether they should be doing that or not, they're the ones that have the power to block [Nord Stream 2]."

Last month, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said he believed Congress would soon pass a bill to impose sanctions on companies involved in Nord Stream 2.

-- Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Valarie Jackson, newsdesk@spglobal.com