“The pipeline itself is the corner,” McConnell said. “Exactly. That was Putin’s goal: to decouple Ukraine from Europe and make Europe even more dependent on Russian gas.
Mr. Cruz’s legislation has sparked a wave of fierce lobbying, particularly pressing centrist Democrats who have long been supporters of Ukraine. In a Christmas Eve video call with a bipartisan group of more than 20 lawmakers, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky framed Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to his country, arguing that the pipeline posed just as many risks to Ukraine. that Russian troops amassed on its border, according to four people briefed on the call, who described it on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on it.
Mr. Zelensky, they said, expressed frustration that the Biden administration waived sanctions on the pipeline last year. Since then, Mr. Zelensky has promoted Mr. Cruz’s bill on Twitter.
A lobbyist who represents Ukraine’s oil and gas industry, including state-owned Naftogaz, contacted the offices of Senate Democrats this week asking for support for Mr. Cruz’s bill, according to a person familiar with the outreach.
An email sent Monday to Senate offices by the lobbyist, which was forwarded to The New York Times, included a screenshot of Mr. Zelensky’s tweet and added the message “Ukraine Pres. Zelensky calls on all senators to vote in favor of Nord Stream 2 sanctions.”
But the Biden administration has rallied its own forces against the legislation. Responding to a request for information from two Democratic senators, the State Department sent officials to the Capitol on Monday to brief lawmakers and dissuade them from supporting the bill. The next day, the issue came up again when the senators met with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in a closed meeting to discuss an upcoming delegation trip to Ukraine.
In an effort to further stave off defections, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday unveiled a Democratic alternative to Mr. Cruz’s bill that would impose sanctions on senior Russian government officials, including Mr Putin, if Russia engages in or supports “a significant escalation of hostilities or hostile actions in or against Ukraine”. It would also provide Ukraine with $500 million in additional emergency security assistance in the event of a Russian invasion.