Nord Stream 2
© Global Look Press / Stefan Sauer
Construction site of the Nord Stream 2 in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany
The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted in support of the bill sanctioning firms involved in Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline stretching from Russia to Germany, arguing the project strengthens Moscow.

The committee voted 20 to 2 on Wednesday morning to back the new penalties, part of the "Protecting Europe's Energy Security Act." Sponsored by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), the bill seeks to address concerns about so-called "Russian influence" in Europe.

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Shaheen claimed on Wednesday that the sanctions will affect only two companies: Allseas Group SA of Switzerland and Italian firm Saipem SpAof.

"Russia has a bad history of using energy as a weapon," Cruz said prior to the vote, explaining his support for the measure, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin benefits from "military adventurism and hostility," as well as Russia's energy sales.

Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul opposed the move, arguing "There's a great deal of consternation over this proposal among our European allies." Paul was joined by Democratic Senator Tom Udall.

Last month, a companion bill passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Led by Russia's public oil firm, Gazprom, the Nord Stream 2 project is expected to be commissioned in 2020, and aims to double the capacity of the first Nord Stream line, providing some 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Germany and other countries in Europe.

Comment: Furthermore, Russia and its beneficiaries are preparing for Nord Stream 3.

Berlin has been firm that the project will help the country meet its growing demand for energy as it phases out coal and nuclear power, while German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier argued the deal is about "shortening delivery routes and creating new supply structures" for natural gas, insisting Germany does not "depend" on Moscow.

US President Donald Trump has previously slammed the pipeline as a "tremendous mistake" for Germany, complaining that Washington is "protecting Germany from Russia" and not getting enough in return. The United States has also expressed interest in selling liquefied natural gas to Europe; however, so far Poland is the only country that has indicated a desire to buy.