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Shaheen Says Russia 'Weaponizing' NatGas, Calls for More Sanctions

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reportedly said the United States should continue to oppose a controversial natural gas pipeline that Russia proposes to build under the Baltic Sea, and that new sanctions should be levied against Russia in retaliation for its actions in Ukraine and its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to a report, Shaheen told the Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation on Wednesday that Gazprom's proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline would threaten Europe's energy security.

"Russia has a track record of weaponizing natural gas," Shaheen said, according to MarketWatch. She added that the pipeline would "give Russia even more options for influencing and intimidating Europe, specifically Ukraine."

A separate report by Politico said Shaheen was preparing to introduce two amendments to a bill that would increase sanctions against Russia. Shaheen presumably was looking to add the amendments to a bill titled "Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017," which is on the agenda of a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations meeting scheduled for Thursday.

"The foot-dragging on Russian sanctions has gone on long enough," Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for Shaheen, told Politico. "There's bipartisan agreement that it's past time for the Senate to deliver a strong message to the Kremlin."

Sanctions have been in place against Russia since it triggered an international crisis in neighboring Ukraine in 2014. Shortly after a revolution in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in February deposed a president seeking closer ties with Russia, pro-Russian forces seized control of Crimea. Russia formally annexed the peninsula after a controversial referendum in March.

The next month, an armed conflict broke out between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Despite several attempts at a ceasefire, the conflict continues today, with elements of Russia's armed forces helping the insurgents maintain control of large parts of Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

The proposed Nord Stream 2 pipeline would have 55 billion cubic meters (1.94 Tcf) of transport capacity, and would run 1,200 kilometers (745.6 miles) under the Baltic Sea. It would connect the Russian port of Ust-Luga, near St. Petersburg, to Greifswald in northeast Germany. Gazprom hopes to enter the pipeline into service in 2019.

Last April, Gazprom signed long-term financing agreements with five European energy companies for 50% of the total cost of the project. The companies are France's ENGIE SA, Austria's OMV, Royal Dutch Shell plc, and Germany's Uniper SE and Wintershall Holding GmbH.

The European Union (EU) abandoned its efforts to block Nord Stream 2 in April and began an effort to negotiate with Russia over the pipeline. Poland had led a group of EU countries -- mostly in Eastern Europe and the Baltics -- in opposition to the pipeline, arguing that it would make them too reliant on Russia for natural gas. Shifting Russian gas deliveries to the new pipeline could also hurt Ukraine, which depends on transit revenue from Gazprom for existing pipelines that traverse Ukraine.

The crisis in Ukraine has increased awareness of Europe's dependence on Russia for natural gas supplies and given a boost to supporters of liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. to the continent.

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