Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he wants a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the U.S. decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Zelenskiy said in an interview with the U.S. news website Axios that he would meet him "at any moment and at any spot on the planet" with the goal of convincing Biden to stop the pipeline. "This is a weapon, a real weapon...in the hands of the Russian Federation," said Zelenskiy, who spoke to Axios in a videoconference call on June 4. "It is not very understandable...that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States." The nearly complete Nord Stream 2 pipeline runs from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, which relies on gas transit fees from other pipelines crossing its territory. Many members of Congress have expressed opposition to the pipeline, saying it will make Europe more dependent on Russian energy supplies. Despite U.S. opposition, the German government has refused to halt the project, arguing that it is a commercial venture and sovereign issue. Putin said on June 4 that while there is still work to be done to link the underwater portion of the pipeline to the section on German territory, Russia’s energy giant Gazprom "is ready to start filing Nord Stream 2 with gas."
Putin’s statements came two weeks after the Biden administration decided to waive sanctions, citing the project’s near-complete status and the importance of good relations with European allies such as Germany.
The State Department said that the Russian company behind the pipeline and its German CEO, Matthias Warnig, an associate of Putin, engaged in sanctionable activity, but sanctions were waived because doing so was in the U.S. national interest. Biden told reporters after the decision that to impose sanctions now would be counterproductive in terms of U.S.-European relations, adding, “It’s not like I can allow Germany to do something or not.” Zelenskiy said in the Axios interview, which as published on June 6, Biden had offered him "direct signals" that the U.S. was prepared to block the pipeline prior to the news that sanctions would be waived. Zelenskiy said he has moved past anger and would now describe his feeling as one of disappointment. But a White House spokesperson told Axios the administration is committed to continuing to consult with Ukraine as it presses Germany “to address the risks Nord Stream 2 poses to Ukraine and European energy security.” When Biden meets Putin on June 16 in Geneva, “he will stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the spokesperson said. Zelenskiy says he is "positive" Biden could still stop the pipeline. "I still believe, after all, that Biden is a [Michael] Jordan in politics," he said, referring to the U.S. basketball star and how he would lull opponents into a "false sense of victory" then "grab the victory at the very last minute." Zelenskiy expressed appreciation for the support Biden offered, but he said the Nord Stream decision could "dampen the confidence" Ukrainians feel about the United States. "There will be a feeling that in these circumstances Russia will have a great chance to prevail over the United States,” he said.