MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Russia has restarted construction of the politically-delicate Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, laying pipes after a one-year interruption driven by U.S. sanctions, the pipeline operator said.
"The pipe-laying vessel Fortuna will lay a 2.6 km section of the pipeline in the German Exclusive Economic Zone in water depths of less than 30 m (100ft),” Nord Stream 2 announced in a statement.
Swiss-Dutch company Allseas halted the laying of pipes in December 2019 after Washington threatened to sanction the firm, forcing Russia to use its own resources to build the 1,230-kilometre pipeline, which is designed to double the 55 billion cubic meter annual gas capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline.
The two pipelines, which bypass Ukraine, will have the capacity to pump more than half of Russia’s total gas exports to Europe. Disputes between Moscow and Kiev over gas supplies led to the interruption of Russian gas flows to Europe in the past decades.
The pipeline, which the U.S. claims compromises European energy security, has turned into a flashpoint in relations between Moscow and the West that have seriously declined to post-Cold War lows with the Kremlin dismissing the U.S. sanctions as "unfair competition.”
The consortium -- led by Russian gas giant Gazprom -- has yet to lay more than 100 kilometers of pipeline, though more than 90 percent of the project has reportedly been completed.
Gazprom’s western partners in the project -- estimated to cost $11.5 billion -- are Germany’s Uniper, BASF’s Wintershall Dea , Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell, Austria’s OMV and Engie.
The maritime authority in the German city of Stralsund has notified shippers in the Baltic Sea area where Nord Stream 2 will make landfall that there will be pipeline-laying activities from December 5 through 31.
The development came a week after U.S. lawmakers agreed to extend sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline even though Gazprom had already announced plans to resume the construction efforts last Saturday.
Russia has two projects to send natural gas to Europe, namely the Nord Steam 2 and the Turk Stream 2 pipeline, which will supply Western Europe with energy. The Turk Stream 2 will carry gas through Bulgaria.
The U.S. has threatened both projects with sanctions, as the outgoing administration of Donald Trump sought to curb Russia’s purported economic leverage over Europe and Turkey.
German daily Bild reported that a German state government considers creating a special fund to bypass Washington’s restrictions.