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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Stefanie Loos/Pool/Getty Images

Almost nobody is happy with the U.S.-Germany deal on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. On the Hill, Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz expressed outrage and Democrats like Sen. Tim Kaine voiced concern. In Europe, the Ukrainians feel bullied and the Poles disappointed.

The big picture: Ukraine and U.S. allies on the eastern flank of NATO argue the pipeline will make it easier for Moscow to isolate Kyiv and pressure Europe. They say the U.S.-Germany deal doesn't sufficiently address those concerns.

  • For Russia and Germany, though, the deal is confirmation a natural gas pipeline the Biden White House has called "a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security" will be completed.

Driving the news: The Biden administration argued Wednesday it was Donald Trump who missed a chance to stop the pipeline by implementing sanctions sooner.

  • Officials say they secured the best deal they could from Germany on a pipeline 90% complete when they took office.
  • Germany pledged to "take action at the national level and press for effective measures at the European level, including sanctions," if Russia tries to "use energy as a weapon" or cuts off gas to its neighbor.
  • That would now be much simpler as Nord Stream 2 circumvents Ukraine, unlike existing pipelines carrying Russian gas to Europe.

Between the lines: The administration was careful to emphasize that Ukraine had been consulted throughout the process. But an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tells Axios the steps announced Wednesday fall well short of their expectations and utterly fail to address Ukraine's security concerns.

  • Ukraine and Poland also released a joint statement saying the steps were "not sufficient."
  • Asked by Axios about the Ukrainian objections, a senior administration official insisted the deal would reduce the risk to Ukraine and would hopefully "enable us to move forward with conversations in a number of other areas, including on security, rather than only talking about Nord Stream 2."

Behind the scenes: While members of the Biden administration were finalizing their deal with Germany, they were working with the Ukrainians to set a date for Zelensky's White House visit, which the Ukrainian president had initially stated would be this month.

  • The Ukrainians felt the administration was effectively linking the White House visit to Ukraine's position on the Nord Stream deal and pressuring them not to speak out. A senior administration official denied that in a statement to Axios.
  • But the visit is now set for Aug. 30, at which point Congress will be out of session and Zelensky will have a much harder time rallying opposition in D.C. to the pipeline.

Worth noting: Zelensky's visit was announced a day after the Ukrainian president criticized Biden's approach to Nord Stream 2 in an interview with Axios and pleaded for a meeting before the June Biden-Putin summit.

The latest: The White House probably could have done without this headline out of Moscow on Wednesday night: "Putin, Merkel express satisfaction with prompt completion of Nord Stream 2 construction in phone call."

Go deeper

Biden speaks with Macron for first time since diplomatic crisis

President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron have a conversation ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels, on June 14, 2021. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron for the first time since a diplomatic row erupted over a scrapped submarine order, per the White House.

Driving the news: Macron said that the French ambassador will return to Washington next week and will resume working with senior U.S. officials.

39 mins ago - World

Taliban: Executions and strict punishments will return

Taliban fighters in Kabul. Photo: Oliver Weiken/picture alliance via Getty Images

Strict punishments such as hand amputations and executions will return in Afghanistan, one of the Taliban's founders said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Why it matters: Despite attempting to project a new image, the Taliban remain committed to a hard-line, conservative ideology, including harsh ruling tactics.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Investors pour millions into immersive, interactive art experiences

Photo Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP via Getty Images

How much would you pay for "a sleek, if pleasantly confusing, package of moods" or "a confusing tangle of disjointed installations" or even "the total erosion of meaning itself"? The answer, according to the current market-clearing price, seems to be about $35.

Why it matters: Investors are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into ticketed experiences — immersive, interactive museum-like spaces that don't have the d0-not-touch stuffiness of traditional museums.