Lob­by­ing for Rus­sian pipeline spikes in Wash­ing­ton

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Foreign News -

WASH­ING­TON: As United States law­mak­ers plot to stop one of Moscow’s most im­por­tant projects in Europe, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, lob­by­ists sup­port­ing it are busier than ever but dis­clos­ing few de­tails of their work, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fil­ings and cur­rent and for­mer US of­fi­cials.

The pipeline link­ing Rus­sian gas fields to Western Europe has be­come a light­ning rod of con­tention in Us-rus­sia re­la­tions, with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­cerned it would dan­ger­ously ex­pand the re­gion’s en­ergy de­pen­dence on Moscow but back­ers, in­clud­ing in Europe, say­ing the gas is needed.

US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has al­ready signed a sanc­tions bill that de­layed con­struc­tion on the Us$11bil project, wholly owned by Rus­sia’s state-run Gazprom and headed by Alexei Miller, a long­time ally of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. But law­mak­ers fear­ful the mea­sures are not enough to pre­vent the pipeline’s com­ple­tion are con­tem­plat­ing fur­ther ac­tion.

Nord Stream 2 AG has paid lob­by­ists at BGR Group, Roberti Global LLC, and Sweeney & As­so­ciates a com­bined Us$1.69mil dur­ing the first half of this year, ac­cord­ing to Sen­ate records. That is more than dou­ble the amount dur­ing the same pe­riod a year ago, and more than all of 2018, the first full year the project lob­bied in Wash­ing­ton.

But ex­actly who the lob­by­ists meet with is a mys­tery be­cause they have not reg­is­tered with the Depart­ment of Jus­tice un­der the For­eign Agent Reg­is­tra­tion Act (FARA), a law passed in 1938 to limit the in­flu­ence of Nazi Ger­many and Com­mu­nist Rus­sia in US pol­i­tics. Un­der FARA, lob­by­ists must dis­close every meet­ing with US of­fi­cials, along with the ma­te­ri­als they dis­trib­ute. In­stead, the Nord Stream 2 lob­by­ists have reg­is­tered un­der the 1995 Lob­by­ing Dis­clo­sure Act, a law that amended FARA by al­low­ing lob­by­ists for for­eign com­pa­nies or in­di­vid­u­als to re­port much less in­for­ma­tion as long as their work is not in­tended to ben­e­fit a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Nord Stream 2 and the lob­by­ing com­pa­nies did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. But Nord Stream 2 has char­ac­ter­ized it­self as a com­mer­cial, not po­lit­i­cal, project. A se­nior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial took is­sue with that, say­ing the lob­by­ists are seek­ing to fur­ther Moscow’s na­tional in­ter­ests.

“The fact that you’ve got peo­ple work­ing for Gazprom, which is es­sen­tially the Rus­sian state, you know to ma­nip­u­late our pro­cesses – it’s crazy,” the of­fi­cial said, ask­ing not to be named dis­cussing the is­sue. Danielle Ni­chols, a spokesper­son for the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, which han­dles FARA reg­is­tra­tions, said the depart­ment had no com­ment at this time. — Reuters

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