FILE – A Russian construction worker speaks on a mobile phone during a ceremony marking the start of Nord Stream pipeline construction in Portovaya Bay some 170 kms (106 miles) north-west from St. Petersburg, Russia on April 9, 2010. Germany’s new government has found itself facing a mountain of problems in relation to Russia since taking office last month. Germany’s foreign minister made a flying visit to Washington on Wednesday to highlight the common stance between her government and the United States on Russia. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats proposed new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday if it invades Ukraine, looking to derail a Republican proposal that the White House fears could undermine unity with European allies.

The Democrats’ proposal is meant to give them White House-backed legislation to demonstrate their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and heighten U.S. promises of financial pain for Russia, which has staged tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s borders. The Democratic bill opens the door for more penalties related to the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine.

“This legislation makes it absolutely clear that the U.S. Senate will not stand idly by as the Kremlin threatens a re-invasion of Ukraine,” Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement laying out the Democrats’ sanctions legislation.

The Biden administration and Democratic leaders also are aiming to head off any Democratic votes in the Senate for rival legislation by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz’s legislation would heap new sanctions on operators of the pipeline whether or not Russia invades. Nord Stream 2 has been built but has not yet gone into operation.BUSINESSInflation at 40-year high pressures consumers, Fed and BidenEXPLAINER: Why US inflation is so high, and when it may easeUS posted smallest monthly deficit in 2 years in DecemberBrainard vows to help combat inflation as No. 2 Fed official

Cruz’s legislation is due for a Senate vote this week. Its prospects are uncertain. It would need at least 10 Democratic votes to pass the chamber and it’s not clear if it would be brought to a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

FILE Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 7, 2021. Cruz appeared on Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson show on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, to apologize for describing the Jan. 6 insurrection as “a violent terrorist attack on the Capitol” in an earlier statement marking the anniversary. He told Carlson: “The way I phrased things yesterday, it was sloppy and it was frankly dumb.” But despite insisting to Carlson that he had misspoken, Cruz has consistently used the “terrorism” terminology to refer to the attack over the past year. (AP Photo)

Republicans have portrayed top Democratic opposition to Cruz’s bill as President Joe Biden and other Democrats showing weakness against Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s a sharp political point given Democratic criticism that President Donald Trump was too deferential to the Russian leader.

White House and Democratic lobbying of Democratic lawmakers against his bill works “to the benefit of Putin. While Russian tanks prepare to invade,” Cruz tweeted this week.

The Biden administration argues Cruz’s proposal could harm relations with valued ally Germany, which like the rest of Europe is dependent on imported natural gas. Passage of Cruz’s legislation would risk splitting what administration officials insist is a united front among the U.S. and its European allies on punishing Russia if it invades. Democrats say the rift would strengthen Putin’s hand.

The Democratic measure would target Putin, his civilian and military leaders and leading Russian financial institutions. It is less immediately aggressive against Nord Stream 2 than Cruz’s bill, saying that the United States “should consider all available and appropriate measures to prevent the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from becoming operational.”

The pipeline would double the volume of gas pumped by Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom directly to Germany. Running under the Baltic Sea, it bypasses existing links through Poland and Ukraine. Gazprom argues it would make long-term supply more reliable.

Pipes for the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline are stored on the premises of the port of Mukran near Sassnitz, Germany, on Dec. 4, 2020. Russia’s natural gas pipeline to Europe is built and ready to flow. But not so fast. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline faces a rocky road ahead. First there’s statement by the U.S. secretary of state that gas won’t flow if Russia launches military aggression against Ukraine. (via AP, File)

Pipeline critics say it increases Russia’s leverage over Europe, pits member states against one another and deprives Ukraine and Poland of billions earned from transit fees. Europe went into winter with scant gas reserves, which has sent prices soaring to eight times what they were at the start of 2021. Putin has used that supply crunch to help make his push for final German and European approval of the project.

The head of the International Energy Agency on Wednesday blamed Russia for worsening Europe’s natural gas crisis, saying the high prices and low storage levels largely stem from the behavior of Gazprom.

U.S. and allies have begun to work on contingency plans should Russia move to cut off Ukraine and others from gas supplies, according to a person familiar with planning who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke Wednesday on condition of anonymity. Currently, there are above average inventories in Asia. Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and Qatar are other suppliers that could step in to fill the breach.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he believes it extremely unlikely Germany would begin operation of the pipeline if Russia does invade Ukraine, whose government has been eager to ally with the West. Germany’s new government has not given a definitive public answer on that point.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne argued Wednesday that imposing new sanctions over Nord Stream 2 regardless of whether Russia invades, as Cruz’s bill would, removes the leverage that the threat of that sanction provides.

“We support Senator Menendez’s legislation, which would trigger severe costs to Russia’s economy if Russia further invades Ukraine, just like President Biden and our allies and partners have made clear we will do,” Horne said.

——

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India boosts military presence as
border talks with China remain stalled


On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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