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‘Wakeup call for Americans’: Russia, Ukraine in behind-the-scenes lobbying war over Nord Stream 2

‘Wakeup call for Americans’: Russia, Ukraine in behind-the-scenes lobbying war over Nord Stream two

WASHINGTON – A gas pipeline that has become a pivotal part of the U.S.’due south public strategy to stop Russia from invading Ukraine is also the focus of a trigger-happy backside-the-scenes lobbying war in Washington.

Russian and Ukrainian interests have spent millions of dollars on lobbyists over the past two years to try to influence U.S. policy on Nord Stream 2, the completed merely not-yet-operational pipeline that runs from Russia to Federal republic of germany.

Lobbyists representing Russian clients reported receiving more than $8.4 million since the start of 2020 to abet for Nord Stream two, according to an analysis past OpenSecrets, a nonprofit group that tracks information on campaign finance and lobbying.

Lobbyists for the Ukrainian authorities and other interests in the eastern European land raked in more than $2 one thousand thousand from their clients last year to aggressively oppose Nord Stream ii and serve as their surrogate on other issues, concluded a separate analysis by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington-based think tank.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs from Russian federation to Deutschland, is the focus of an intense lobbying campaign in Washington.

The large sums of cash flowing to lobbyists warning advocates of government transparency in part because firms representing Russian clients take disclosed few details about their activities. Lobbyists are required under regime disclosure rules to report certain – but non all – activities.

The lack of transparency “should be a wakeup call for Americans concerned with the extent to which entities associated with authoritarian regimes similar Russia and Communist china are working to influence decision making in Washington,” said Benjamin 50. Schmitt, postdoctoral research young man at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Ben Freeman, a research beau at the Quincy Institute and an expert on foreign influence campaigns, compared the Russian lobbyists’ opacity to a “black box” that shuts out all lite.

“We know they’re doing it. We know this is happening,” he said. “We simply can’t look inside this black box to know really what they’re doing.”

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Millions spent behind the scenes

Two lobbying firms – Roberti Global and the BGR Group – accept received the largest contracts from Russian interests looking to influence Nord Stream two.

Nord Stream 2 AG, the visitor that volition operate the pipeline, has paid more $5 million to Roberti Global, a lobbying firm run past Democratic donor and lobbyist Vincent Roberti, since the get-go of 2020, the OpenSecrets analysis shows. Roberti disclosed in public documents that his work for the Russians was related to “the U.Due south. position toward the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including potential financial sanctions affecting the project.”

During the same period, Nord Stream 2 paid about $i.6 million to BGR Group for lobbying past Walker Roberts, a sometime Republican staffer for foreign affairs congressional committees.

In addition, v strange companies that are partners on the pipeline — Republic of austria’due south OMV AG, the Netherlands’ Shell International, French republic’s ENGIE, and Germany’s Wintershall and Uniper SE — paid lobbyists at McLarty Inbound more than $ane.half-dozen million since the start of 2020, OpenSecrets reported.

Ukrainian servicemen provide area security during a visit by Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of the Joint Forces Operation, to frontline positions outside Avdiivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.
Ukrainian servicemen provide area security during a visit by Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk, commander of the Joint Forces Performance, to frontline positions exterior Avdiivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Wed, February. ix, 2022.

Ukrainian interests that oppose Nord Stream as well have been lobbying aggressively behind the scenes.

Of the $2 million that Ukrainian clients paid to lobbyists last year, $1.2 million went to Yorktown Solutions, a firm headed by Daniel Vajdich, who advises the Ukrainian state-run energy company Naftogaz, according to the Quincy Constitute’s analysis.

Vajdich is a former staffer for the Senate Strange Relations Committee, where he focused on Europe, Eurasia and related issues. He also served as a national security adviser to three Republican presidential candidates: Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, erstwhile Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Manus Romney of Utah.

About a million dollars that flowed to Vajdich’s house came from the Ukraine Federation of Employers of the Oil and Gas Industry, which opposes Nord Stream two and whose companies stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue if the pipeline becomes operational.

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Yorktown Solutions reported more than than 12,114 “political activities” on behalf of its Ukrainian clients in 2021, including thousands of emails and hundreds of meetings with members of Congress and their staff, State Department officials, members of the media and think tank scholars with an interest in Russia-Ukraine developments.

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To put that in perspective, that’s more than than four times the number of political activities that the unabridged Saudi lobby reported in 2020, said Freeman, who authored the Quincy Institute’south analysis.

Vajdich said in an interview that his work for the Ukrainians is driven by a belief that Nord Stream 2 is an issue with massive security and defense implications for Ukraine and that sanctions are the only style to stop it from moving frontward.

Supporters and opponents of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany have spent millions of dollars to influence U.S. policy on the gas line.
Supporters and opponents of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany accept spent millions of dollars to influence U.S. policy on the gas line.

“I don’t come at this as a mercenary,” he said. “We very much work for the Ukrainians considering we believe this is important.”

Besides Vajdich’s company, Ukrainian oil and gas companies paid $120,000 final summertime to the public relations business firm KARV Communications and more than $300,000 to the police firm Arent Fox for advocacy work against Nord Stream ii, the Quincy Constitute reported.

KARV focused heavily on media outreach related to the pipeline and reported coming together with journalists at multiple news outlets. Arent Fox focused on reaching out to the State Department.

‘Absolutely united’

While lobbyists take been working behind the scenes to influence U.S. policy on Nord Stream 2, the Biden administration has been publicly using the $11 billion pipeline to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin from further invading Ukraine.

Putin insists that Russia has no plans to invade its neighbor. But Russia has positioned more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and, only this calendar week, dispatched state of war ships toward the Blackness Body of water, raising concerns that plans for a large-scale assault are falling into place.

The White House warned Friday that Russia could invade Ukraine before the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics adjacent calendar week and urged Americans still in Ukraine to go out in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Though construction on Nord Stream 2 is finished, the pipeline is all the same pending final regulatory approval in Germany. President Joe Biden vows the pipeline will not become operational if Russian federation invades Ukraine.

“If Russia invades – that means tanks or troops crossing the edge of Ukraine over again – then there will be no longer a Nord Stream two,” Biden said Monday at a joint press briefing with High german Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

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Stopping the pipeline would require the cooperation of Germany. At Monday’due south news conference, Scholz would not commit to pulling the plug on the project only stressed that the U.S. and Germany stand “absolutely united” to cease a Russian invasion.

“We will human action together,” he said. “We will non exist taking different steps. And they will exist very, very hard to Russia.”

Nord Stream ii is a priority for Putin, which the U.S. and its NATO allies believe gives them leverage in their diplomatic negotiations with Russia.

The pipeline is owned by the Russian state-controlled company Gazprom and snakes westward from Russian federation to northeastern Germany for more than 700 miles under the Baltic Sea. Once it becomes operational, Russia tin send natural gas to its customers in central and eastern Europe without using land routes that run through the Baltic states and Ukraine.

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Right now, Russia pays Ukraine effectually $ii billion a year in transit fees to ship the gas through its lines – coin that Moscow would no longer have to beat out if Nord Stream 2 goes online.

But analysts fear that Putin’s interests in Nord Stream 2 are motivated by political ambition even more than his desire sell gas to Europe. By controlling the flow of gas, Putin has the power to exert political influence over European countries. Put simply: To get Europe to cede to his political demands, he could threaten to plough off the spigot.

Ukrainians fear their security also could be undermined past Nord Stream 2. Putin considers Ukraine a function of Russia and, in 2014, invaded and annexed Crimea. Every bit long every bit Putin needs Ukraine’due south transit arrangement to evangelize gas to Europe, he is less likely to human activity aggressively toward Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 would remove that incentive to keep his aggressive behavior toward in check.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was constructed in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of northeastern Germany.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was synthetic in the Baltic Sea, off the coast of northeastern Germany.

Public disclosure

The day before the Senate defeated a neb in Jan to slap sanctions on the company behind Nord Stream 2, Vajdich’s firm sent a four-page fact sheet to the offices of all Senate Democrats and several Republicans.

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Vajdich’southward document was a rebuttal of the talking points that the Biden administration had distributed in opposition to the sanctions bill sponsored by Cruz. Vajdich laid out nine reasons why the Senate should impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, arguing among other things that sanctions could deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine.

“We promise you’ll seriously consider Ukraine’southward perspective on the upcoming Nord Stream ii sanctions vote,” Vajdich wrote, quoting Deputy Secretary of Country Wendy Sherman’south line that there should be “no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

The document was ane of many that Vajdich’south company disclosed to the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Human action. Congress passed the law in 1938 to identify Nazi propaganda and other foreign efforts to influence U.South. policy. Nether FARA, lobbyists must disembalm every meeting with U.S. officials, along with the materials they distribute.

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In a separate filing, Vajdich’s house disclosed that information technology arranged a meeting with Cruz and two of his staffers final July 20 to discuss Nord Stream 2. Vajdich said he was not at the meeting and referred questions most it to Cruz’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Lobbyists representing Nord Stream two have disclosed few details virtually their work.

The pipeline’s proponents have registered their work under a separate law, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, keeping details of which government officials the lobbyists met with hidden from the public. The 1995 law allows lobbyists for foreign companies or individuals to study less information as long every bit they are working to further “bona fide trade or commerce” and are non interim on behalf of a strange government or strange political party.

They depend on Putin’southward next motility.

Russian federation claims that Nord Stream 2 is a commercial projection, but analysts take consequence with that description because the pipeline is owned by Gazprom, which is owned by the Russian government.

The lobbyists’ decision to register nether the Lobbying Disclosure Act instead of FARA means the public knows little about what they are doing for Russian interests at a pivotal moment in U.Southward.-Russian federation relations, the Quincy Institute’s Freeman said.

“We don’t really know what they’re upwardly to, who they’re contacting, how much they’re contacting them,” he said.

Natural gas, Nord Stream 2 pipeline may be biggest weapons in Ukraine-Russia crisis
Natural gas, Nord Stream 2 pipeline may be biggest weapons in Ukraine-Russia crisis

Steven Goldberg, a spokesman for Roberti Global, declined to provide details nearly the grouping’south work on Nord Stream 2 but defended the decision to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Human action. The company sought outside legal advice to evaluate the reporting requirements and is confident that it is in compliance with those rules, he said.

Roberts of the BGR Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.

This article originally appeared on U.s. TODAY: Nord Stream 2: Russia, Ukraine spend millions lobbying on pipeline

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