Olympic figure skaters’ medals are in limbo over a possible Russian doping scandal

Published February 10, 2022 at 8:24 AM EST
A Russian warship sails through the Bosphorus Strait past Istanbul.
Matthew Stockman
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Getty Images
Kamila Valieva of Team ROC on the ice during the women's skating team event Monday.

Good morning,

Here's what we're following today:

Figure skating medals delay: A senior U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee official says the movement's credibility "stands teetering on the edge," in response to an apparent Russian doping scandal at the Winter Olympics.

The latest in the Russia-Ukraine crisis: The U.S. and allies have promised oil and gas sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine — a potential blow to Russia's economy but a serious threat to Europe's fuel needs.

Canadian trucker protest: The truckers blockading downtown Ottawa and major bridges to the U.S. have a variety of complaints, but the Confederate flags and even swastikas on display show the protests' roots in extremism..

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, the House Jan. 6 panel subpoenas former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Carol Ritchie, Rachel Treisman, Nell Clark and Chris Hopkins)

Quite the dill-emma

The Portland Pickles need your help finding their stolen mascot, Dillon T. Pickle

Posted February 10, 2022 at 12:20 PM EST

We don't relish telling you this, but it's kind of a big dill: The Portland Pickles baseball team says their beloved mascot, Dillon T. Pickle, has been stolen, and are seeking the public's help in bringing him home safe.

It all started in the Dominican Republic, where Dillon was making an appearance at a Caribbean baseball series. He was due to return to Oregon via New York City on Jan. 31. A week later, the team tweeted out some jarring news: An alert messagefrom Delta showing that the bag he was traveling in had been lost somewhere at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

"You win one championship this century and think you’re too good for storage on an airplane," the collegiate summer league team tweeted to its 29,000 followers.

As the days passed, the team put out multiple APBs (which we assume stands for "all-pickles bulletin"), sharing missing posters and calls for help across social media. For example:

The team stressed multiple times that the whole thing wasn't just a prank gone sour, because, as member station OPB reports, "Dillon the Pickle has a reputation for high jinx."

Still, team officials are assuring the public that they're not gherkin anyone's chain.

“We’re definitely known for being funny and joking around a lot of social media. So we understand the kind of ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario,” assistant general manager Parker Huffman told OPB. “But this is definitely not a joke.”

Dillon's story took a turn on Thursday when the team shared that Delta had found the mascot and delivered him to their office — but after hours and without any notification. Instead of being welcomed back with open arms, Dillon was snatched from the front porch around 5 a.m. local time and carried away into the unknown.

Ring doorbell footage shows a man wearing a jacket, hat, over-ear headphones and backpack, grabbing the canvas bag and walking down the building's steps. (The team also shared a map of the scene, in response to skeptics' questions about why an office building would have a porch and front fence.)

"This is turned from a mistake by Delta into to a crime," the Pickles tweeted.

They are calling on the people of Portland to aid in Dillon's safe return, offering a reward for information and a "no questions asked" return.

Huffman also filed a police report, the Portland Police Bureau confirmed to OPB. He told the station that Dillon is "priceless," and estimated it would cost $1,000 or more to replace the costume.

Local journalists, sports fans, elected officials, concerned bystanders and even other anthropomorphic mascots are amplifying the search and sharing messages of support on social media, as the team continues its plea for help.

"Seriously, he is going to tell someone that he stole a pickle mascot, that cannot be kept a secret," it tweeted. "Do the right thing."

Meanwhile, the team laments its fermented loss and continues its pleas for help.

Politics

Bill that would give the U.S. Postal Service its biggest overhaul in decades moves toward a Senate vote

Posted February 10, 2022 at 11:24 AM EST
A worker carries a large parcel at the United States Postal Service sorting and processing facility Nov. 18, 2021, in Boston. This week the House passed legislation that would save the USPS more than $50 billion over the next decade. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning for the senate to vote on the bill by the end of next week.
Charles Krupa/AP
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AP
A worker carries a large parcel at the U.S. Postal Service sorting and processing facility in Boston on Nov. 18, 2021. This week the House passed legislation that would save the USPS more than $50 billion over the next decade.

Bipartisan legislation that boosts the U.S. Postal Service and saves nearly $50 billion in the next decade is potentially set for a Senate vote by the end of next week.

The bill, called the Postal Service Reform Act of 2022, passed in the House Tuesday night with overwhelming support of 342-92.

"Americans rely on the Postal Service for medicines, essential goods, voting, correspondence, and their livelihoods," tweeted Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "With the overwhelming House vote for postal reform—I intend for the Senate to quickly take up and pass the bill!"

Key parts of the bill include requiring postal service employees to enroll in Medicare, which would cut down on premiums, according to the House Oversight Committee. Currently, about a quarter of retired postal workers do not enroll in Medicare, even when they are eligible. The committee estimates this would save approximately $22.6 billion over 10 years.

Additionally, USPS would not longer be required to pre-fund health benefits for its current and retiring employees, which saves about $27 billion over 10 years. This is where the greatest cost savings for the postal service would come.

The bill also implements a service performance transparency tool, which would require USPS to create an online dashboard with data on national and local level service to track delivery times. It also mandates at least 6 days of service per week.

Of note, the bill is also attempting to promote local news by expanding special rates for local newspaper distribution.

For decades, USPS, which does not receive taxpayer money, has been politicized and toggled between serving as a business or a public service. It's been losing billions of dollars annually in recent years.

During the 2020 election, the postal service, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, came under scrutiny as millions of Americans voted by mail during the pandemic. DeJoy is a longtime GOP donor and was appointed to his role by former President Trump.

On the new legislation, DeJoy says he's "hopeful" the bill passes through the Senate in a timely manner.

Politics

Senators announce long-awaited agreement to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

Posted February 10, 2022 at 11:13 AM EST

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday announced that they had reached an agreement on a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, after months of negotiations in the chamber.

Angelina Jolie joined the group of U.S. senators as they proposed reauthorizing the 1990s-era law, which extends protections and offers resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Democrats Dick Durbin and Dianne Feinstein and Republicans Joni Ernst and Lisa Murkowski led the Senate talks.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber, noted that neither party achieved everything they wanted in the reauthorization, but hailed the compromise as a step toward better addressing the needs of domestic abuse survivors.

"Our bill is a compromise," he said. "It doesn't include everything Sen. Feinstein and I wanted, or everything Sen. Ernst and Murkowski wanted. And there are provisions that all four of us very much wanted to include, such as an end to the loophole that allows abusers who harm dating partners to continue to have access to guns."

The Illinois senator was referencing the so-called "boyfriend loophole," which restricts convicted spousal abusers from accessing firearms, but in some instances does not impose the same restrictions on dating partners who have been charged with abuse.

Read the full story here.

Politics

Louisiana senate candidate Gary Chambers burns a Confederate flag in a new campaign ad

Posted February 10, 2022 at 10:42 AM EST

Gary Chambers and his infamous lighter are back.

The longtime community activist and Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate made headlines last month with a campaign video in which he smoked a blunt while advocating for the legalization of marijuana.

His latest ad is also a talker. The minute-long spot, titled "Scars and Bars," shows Chambers burning a Confederate flag while discussing — and symbolically destroying — the legacy of Jim Crow.

The ad opens with Chambers holding an American flag and quoting the Constitution, then replacing it with a Confederate flag as he remarks that its remnants linger in much of the South. He says the right of Black Americans to vote and participate in democracy is under attack, calling gerrymandered districts "a byproduct of the Confederacy."

"Our system isn't broken," he says at one point, setting the flag aflame. "It's designed to do exactly what it's doing, which is producing measurable inequity."

The ad's release coincides with the state legislature's ongoing special session to redraw the state's political lines, in which activists are campaigning for an expansion of majority-Black districts. In fact, Chambers led a rally for that very cause on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol steps on Wednesday morning, according to the Daily Advertiser.

Lawmakers will have until Feb. 20 to redraw the state's congressional districts as well as those of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Service Commission, state Supreme Court, and state House and Senate, reports member station WWNO in New Orleans.

The public is calling for lawmakers to draw congressional districts that better represent the state's Black population: Census data show that roughly one-third of the state’s population identifies as Black, but only one of the state’s six congressional districts has a majority-minority population.

Creating a second majority-Black district would likely result in the loss of a safe Republican seat in Congress, which WWNO points out is a tough sell for the state's GOP-led legislature.

In the ad, Chambers notes the high rates of poverty and disenfranchisement among Black Americans as he watches the flag burn.

"It's time to burn what remains of the Confederacy down," he says. "I do believe the South will rise again, but this time it'll be on our terms."

Chambers faces an uphill battle in his challenge to replace U.S. Sen. John Kennedy — the 70-year-old Republican incumbent — as the junior senator from Louisiana. But these short clips could provide a major boost in visibility, with his marijuana video racking up millions of views and considerable media attention.

The viral campaign ads, while novel in substance, employ tactics that political campaigns have been relying on for decades. Read more here.

Law

2 Dallas police officers charged with assaulting people at George Floyd protests

Posted February 10, 2022 at 10:17 AM EST
A Dallas police car sits in front of a street where a crowd of marchers are yelling and holding signs.
Cooper Neill
/
Getty Images North America
Demonstrators march past a Dallas Police car during a peaceful protest against police brutality and racism on June 6, 2020 in Dallas, Texas.

Two Dallas police officers are facing charges for allegedly assaulting protesters during the 2020 demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality.

Dallas County Criminal District Attorney John Creuzot announced on Wednesday that his office had issued the arrest warrants "after working diligently for more than a year and holding two press conferences to identify officers who committed possible criminal offenses during the May 2020 Protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd."

Senior Cpl. Ryan Mabry and former Senior Cpl. Melvin Williams are each facing six charges, a mix of aggravated assault and official oppression. All but one stem from the night of May 30, when peaceful protests in downtown Dallas devolved into clashes between demonstrators and police.

The officers' attorneys have said they were acting lawfully to dispel violent protests.

Mabry faces three felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by a public servant and three misdemeanor counts of official oppression. He is accused of shooting three people with a 40-millimeter launcher, which is used for crowd control and known as "less-lethal ammunition" (despite causing serious and even fatal injuries).

The 12-year department veteran and member of its Tactical Operations Division is currently on administrative leave "pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs administrative investigation," the Dallas Police Department said.

Williams faces two felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon by a public servant and four counts of official oppression, one of which is related to an assault that took place in July 2021. He is accused of shooting three people with a 40-millimeter launcher on the night of the protests.

Police said he was terminated from the department on Jan. 25, 2022, "for violating the department's use of force policy on a separate incident."

Dallas police said on Wednesday that both Mabry and Williams were expected to turn themselves in to the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

Here's what we know so far.

The DA's office had spent more than a year investigating three incidents

Dallas police have already come under scrutiny for their handling of the 2020 protests — including from their own department.

After several high-profile incidents involving "less-lethal" weapons, a court temporarily blocked officers from using crowd control devices on protesters. And later that summer, the department released an 85-page report reviewing the "errors, miscalculations and shortcomings" in its response.

Following more than a year of investigations, the district attorney's said in early January that it was looking into three police shootings that took place within a 12-minute window that Saturday evening, according to CBS DFW.

The first was a shooting in a parking lot at 5:30 p.m. local time, in which officials said an unidentified man appeared to be hit in the buttocks by less-lethal ammunition. Eight minutes later, on the same street, a police officer shot protester Brandon Saenz with the same kind of ammunition, which ultimately resulted in Saenz losing an eye. An unknown male appeared to be hit in the groin nearby just four minutes later, officials said.

Under police department protocol, the officers should have collected the projectiles, sought medical help for the people hit, notify a supervisor on the scene that they had discharged their weapon and completed an incident report by the end of their shift. That's according to the district attorney's office, which said none of these steps were followed.

"From everything we have, we believe this activity is illegal and unjustified,” Creuzot said at the time. “We need names, we need a person.”

His office asked for the public's help in identifying the two officers, saying it only had until May 30 of this year to take legal action against them.

Ryan Mabry

Mabry was charged in connection to the shootings of Saenz, David McKee and another unidentified individual.

Saenz, who was 25 at the time, told ABC affiliate WFAA that he was walking from a nearby dog park to look for a friend downtown when he came within 10-15 feet of a line of police officers near City Hill.

"And then all the sudden all I heard was a boom and I got hit," he said. "And I put my hands up and I put my hand on my eye and I took off running."

Saenz underwent a series of surgeries, including an ear-to-ear incision in his scalp to remove blood clots and install a temporary drain tube. The Dallas Morning News reports he lost seven teeth in addition to his left eye, and the left side of his face was fractured.

His attorneys told the newspaper that Mabry had no reason to shoot Saenz in the eye, saying he wasn't doing anything illegal and added that Saenz was "extremely emotional" upon learning of the charges.

“We’re talking about someone who was very close to having more than just his eye lost but potentially losing his entire life,” said attorney Jasmine Crockett. “And I don’t think that … anyone should be faced with that as a result of a concern about property loss.”

Mabry's attorney, Toby Shook, told the newspaper that he believes evidence will prove that demonstrators were not following police orders and that his client followed protocol after being told to disperse the crowd.

“The groups of people involved there were not peaceful protesters; these were mobs of people who kept gathering with the sole intention of instigating confrontation with police officers and destroying property,” Shook said.

Melvin Williams

William is also charged over the shooting of McKee, as well as those of an unidentified individual and Vincent Doyle.

Williams was already facing a misdemeanor assault charge against Doyle, the Dallas Morning News notes. The District Attorney's office filed it in December 2021, weeks after a grand jury declined to indict him on the allegation that he used excessive force against the then-23-year-old.

Doyle, an aspiring photojournalist, has said he was filming the protests when he was struck in the face by a less-lethal bullet, smashing his cheekbone and leaving him with only 40% vision in his left eye.

Robert Rogers, Williams' attorney, said in a written statement shared with NPR that his client and his fellow SWAT team members were only called into action "once the protests had turned into violent riots."

"His options were simple: do nothing, allow downtown to burn and his fellow officers to get injured or use the tools that he was provided and called on to use by his command staff to suppress the ongoing riots," Rogers wrote. "He obviously chose the latter and now faces absurd criminal charges for lawfully targeting individuals that were clearly agitators."

Williams is also facing an official oppression charge in connection to the assault of Jesus Ramiro Lule in the Deep Ellum entertainment district on the evening of July 18, 2021.

Video of the incident shows Williams and other officers trying to break up a fight, and telling a man to back away. After briefly cutting away, the camera captures Williams "shoving the man into a post before straddling him and punching him several times" in the face, according to the Dallas Morning News.

"Melvin was trying to break up a violent, drunken brawl in the middle of the street in Deep Ellum," Rogers said. "He used lawful force in dealing with a combative suspect."

As the footage circulated online, police placed Williams on administrative leave and opened an internal investigation. He was fired on Jan. 25.

The Dallas Morning News reports that Williams had already been under two separate use-of-force investigations related to the May 30 protests.

Coronavirus

Canada's trucker protests are rooted in extremism and boosted by pandemic fatigue, expert says

Posted February 10, 2022 at 9:47 AM EST
A protester holds a U.S. confederate flag with an image of a truck in the center. Another holds a sign reading "We are the fringe".
Dave Chan
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AFP via Getty Images
A protester carries a Confederate flag during the protests in Ottawa in January. Along with Canadian flags, signs and flags with extremist views have been seen at the demonstrations.

Massive protests by truckers opposing pandemic precautions continue to ensnare traffic in Canada. Authorities are increasingly wary of the extremist views on display during the demonstrations, which some have dubbed the "Freedom Convoy."

The drivers have been blocking major metropolitan areas in Ottawa, Ontario, for over a week and are becoming increasingly raucous, calling for the lifting of health regulations as well as a regime change in the country. Protestors in tractor-trailers and other vehicles have been running their engines and honking their horns day and night in the densely populated area. There are also hundreds of protestors on foot.

Ottawa City Councilor Matthew Luloff toldMorning Edition that hate symbols and acutely anti-Semitic writing have been seen at the rallies. Along with Canadian flags, some protestors have also been showing off U.S. Confederate flags and swastikas.

"Some of the most well-known radicals in this country have now descended upon the capital. Some of them are calling for violence. Some of them are threatening individual politicians," said Luloff.

Some of the protestors have legitimate concerns, noted Luloff. But what's driving those using the protests to push hate?

In fact, extremist groups are at the core of the movement, Stephanie Carvin, a national security expert, tellsMorning Edition. Carvin reports groups with conspiratorial beliefs, anti-governmental and bigoted views have been trying for years to organize a convoy, but vaccine mandates helped to finally give their plan enough momentum in Ottawa.

"In reality, I think what we're looking at is something like a spark that lit a powder keg within the wider Canadian population," Carvin says.

Carvin notes fatigue for mitigation measures is at an all-time high as Canada comes out of its fourth major lockdown for COVID-19 prevention, unlike many other countries, including the U.S., which have not had national lockdowns.

Those fatigued with lockdown-induced economic and social struggles resonate with the trucker protest's messages against COVID-19 mandates, even though at its core, the movement's roots are firmly based in violent extremist ideologies, Carvin explains.

When NPR's Emma Jacob's visited the protests in Ottawa and interviewed demonstrators, a man who's part of the self-appointed security for the protests' areas pushed his way into the interview.

"It's a civil war between the government and its people," he explained. He didn't give his name.

From a security perspective, Carvin reports authorities don't want to take responsibility for the protests. Law enforcement has been confiscating protesters' fuel and calling for additional police forces.

"There's a reluctance to even just hand out parking tickets. It is a baffling kind of collapse of authority," says Carvin.

Even as Canada lifts coronavirus mandates in some areas, the protests may not end due to their anti-governmental nature.

If the protests spread across the United States,authorities worry they could further crumble supply chains and potentially even disrupt the upcoming Super Bowl and State of the Union address.

💘🧸

Build-A-Bear is selling Valentine's Day stuffed animals for (millennial) adults only

Posted February 10, 2022 at 9:27 AM EST
Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc.

This Valentine's Day, Build-A-Bear wants to remind you that stuffed animals aren't just for kids.

The company is selling a series of plush toys specifically designed for adults in its "After Dark" collection timed to the holiday.

"Wink, wink – our giftshop is full of gifts for adults too," the company said in a recent Facebook post. "Shop Build-A-Bear After Dark for unique gift ideas that are sure to get you hugged."

These gifts aren't as explicit as they might sound: For the sweethearts, there's a "Happy Hugs" teddy with silky heart boxers and a bouquet of roses, or a puppy whose T-shirt reads, "I want to take you out." For Galentine's Day, perhaps, plush bunnies and bears declare "Rosé over roses," "Not today, Cupid," and "It's wine o'clock somewhere."

The new Valentine's toys, particularly the alcohol-themed options, have some critics describing the products as "cheugy," a slang term — often meant derisively — that's usually applied to millennials.

As it turns out, the company's adults-only collection is devised, in part, to appeal to millennials — many of whom grew up stuffing bears with cotton and cloth hearts.

A "meaningful and growing portion of Build-A-Bear's furry friends are purchased by and for adults," a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday. "Accordingly, a selection of products have been designed to appeal to this expanded market," the person said.

As such, there are Build-A-Bears for the now-grown fans of pop culture fixtures in the aughts, like the TV show Friends and a number of Disney franchises.

And those parents need not worry about the amorous and alcohol-imbibing animals finding their way into the kids' aisles. The After Dark collection is only available online.

Winter Olympics

Olympic figure skaters’ medals are in limbo over a (new) Russian doping scandal

Posted February 10, 2022 at 8:52 AM EST
Kamila Valieva of Team ROC on the ice during the women's skating team event Monday.
Lintao Zhang
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Getty Images
Kamila Valieva of Team ROC on the ice during the women's skating team event Monday.

Medalists in team figure skating still haven’t received their prizes at the Beijing Olympics, because of an apparent failed doping test. Russian media report that the athlete in question is Kamila Valieva, who made history by landing two quadruple jumps.

Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Valieva, 15, tested positive for a heart drug called trimetazidine, which can boost athletes’ endurance and blood efficiency. Russian media outlets report that Valieva submitted the sample in question last month, before she won the European championship.

Valieva returned to the ice Thursday after missing practice on Wednesday. Her absence had led to speculation that she might have been suspended -- but Olga Ermolina, a press officer of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, told media outlets that Valieva is not under an Olympic suspension. That implies Valieva will compete in the women's single competition, which begins on Tuesday.

The teams' medal ceremony for the Russian Olympic Committee (who won gold), the U.S. (silver) and Japan (bronze) was called off on Tuesday because of what officials describe as a “legal issue.” As of Thursday, the medals remain in limbo. If Russia’s win is thrown out, fourth-place Canada would gain a spot on the podium and the U.S. would rise to take the gold.

The high-profile case is a test of the Olympics’ ideals of the fairness and integrity of sport, according to USOPC board chairwoman Susanne Lyons.

“While we don't have all the information on this situation, the reality is that the whole credibility of the Olympic Movement and the Paralympic Movement stands teetering on the edge,” Lyons said in a statement sent to NPR.

Aside from the timing of the test, another complication could be Valieva’s age. At 15, she is a “protected person,” as defined by the World Anti-Doping Code. That lowers the potential punishment for minor athletes who are confirmed to be doping to a minimum of a reprimand and a maximum of a two-year ban. And under the code, officials are not required to publicly identify such athletes.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency says trimetazidine was added to the WADA Prohibited List in 2014 -- initially as a stimulant banned only during competition. But for 2015, it was classified as a metabolic modulator and banned both during and outside of competition.

International

Prince Charles has COVID-19 again

Posted February 10, 2022 at 8:12 AM EST
Prince Charles, wearing a tuxedo, speaks at a podium labeled "British Asian Trust" in front of a red background.
Tristan Fewings
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Getty Images
Prince Charles speaks at a reception at the British Museum on Thursday in London. He tested positive for COVID-19 the following morning.

Prince Charles tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday morning, Clarence House announced on Twitter. It said the 73-year-old is self-isolating but did not elaborate on his condition.

"HRH is deeply disappointed not to be able to attend today's events in Winchester and will look to reschedule his visit as soon as possible," the palace added.

Prince Charles was due in the Hampshire city to unveil a statue of 13th-century Jewish businesswoman Licoricia of Winchester, according to the BBC. The moneylender and single parent helped fund the construction of Westminster Abbey and bankroll three English kings, and was murdered in 1277.

Sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley's life-size bronze statue, depicting Licoricia holding her son's hand, was unveiled in front of a crowd on Prince Charles' behalf, the BBC reports.

It appears to have been a busy week for the heir to the British throne, who attended a charity benefit on Wednesday night in addition to visiting the National Gallery and administering investitures at Windsor Castle.

This is the second time that Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID-19. He previously contracted the virus in March 2020, with the palace saying at the time that he was experiencing mild symptoms but remained "in good health."

Russia-Ukraine crisis

Natural gas looms large in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Here's why the U.S. is involved

Posted February 10, 2022 at 8:06 AM EST
A small square structure with painted swimming fish on one side and a map of Europe labeled with colorful flags on the other.
Sean Gallup
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Getty Images
A map shows the course of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany on the wall of an informational booth close to the receiving station for the pipeline near Lubmin, Germany.

Russian warships are making their way into the Black Sea for a major military exercise today in Belarus.

The exercise involves thousands of Russian troops and weapons systems and threatens the ongoing diplomatic efforts in the standoff between Russia and the West over a potential invasion of Ukraine.

One of the strongest levers the U.S. and its allies have against Moscow is sanctions — particularly involving oil and gas, which are central to Russia's economy. Europe gets about 40% of its natural gas from Russia, prompting fears of what would happen to homes and factories if Moscow were to cut off this supply.

Recent days have brought considerable attention to Nord Stream 2, an $11-billion, 750-mile long natural gas pipeline that runs from Germany to Russia (under the Baltic Sea) but is not yet operational because it's still awaiting certification. Germany — which is particularly dependent on Russian gas — supports the pipeline, but it's long been controversial in the U.S. over concerns that it could give Moscow too much leverage over Europe.

After German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the White House earlier this week, President Biden said the U.S. would prevent Nord Stream 2 from coming online if Russia proceeds with an invasion of Ukraine. He has not specified exactly how the U.S. would block the pipeline.

James Waddell, the head of European gas at London-based Energy Aspects, told NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam that while it would have been better if the U.S. had acted while the pipeline was still under construction, there are still things it can target, like companies being able to do maintenance and provide insurance.

He said the "real option and the sort of worst-case scenario for anyone buying gas" would be to sanction the major financiers of the project. Northam adds that some of the holdup in getting Nord Stream 2 online is "believed to be political."

Of course, U.S. involvement runs the risk of alienating Germany and other European countries. It could also prompt Russia to retaliate, potentially by shutting off that critical flow of natural gas.

"It would be a lose-lose situation," Northam says. "Russia relies on revenue from sales to Europe, and Europe relies on Russia for natural gas."

Click here to read more about the role natural gas plays in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Click here to listen to Northam's analysis on Morning Edition.