As the new US administration under Joe Biden is reportedly weighing additional sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, the pipelay barge Fortuna is continuing pipelay works in the Danish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the pipelay vessel Akademik Cherskiy is implementing preparatory works prior to commencing pipelay.

“I would expect Nord Stream 2 to do as much pipe-laying as possible and as fast as possible by using both Fortuna and Cherskiy,” Katja Yafimava, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, told New Europe on April 9.

“As of March 31, a total of 2,339 kilometres out of 2,460 kilometres or 95% of the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline have been laid, a spokesperson for Nord Stream 2 pipeline told New Europe on April 9. “Approximately 121 kilometres or 5% remain. There are approximately 93 kilometres in Danish waters and approximately 28 kilometres in German waters to be laid. We will inform about further planning in due time,” the spokesperson added.

With over 95% of the pipeline complete, Washington may not be able to stop the Nord Stream 2 project. “My view remains that the Biden administration wants to stop/complicate the project but does not want to sanction any European companies involved in it,” Yafimava said, explaining that the February sanctions report only listed the Russian Fortuna and its owner.

“Therefore, one could expect the US to ratchet up the sanctions threat during the period preceding the adoption of the next sanctions report at the end of May with the aim of scaring more European companies away from the project,” Yafimava said.

At the same time, the Oxford energy expert argued that the Biden administration wants to “trade” its non-imposition of sanctions on European companies in exchange for something – a quid pro quo. “But I’d argue there won’t be much on offer from Europe/Germany as they know that the US itself is weary of imposing sanctions on European companies and the damage it would do to US-Europe relations,” Yafimava said.

Peter Beyer, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s coordinator for transatlantic relations reportedly called for a temporary halt to the construction of Nord Stream 2 gas to give Merkel’s government time to work on resetting ties with the US.

Asked if this signals a change in attitude in Berlin, Yafimava said that is a minority view whereas the attitude of the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has remained unchanged, namely that construction must be completed. “Halting Nord Stream 2 construction would dramatically weaken the Germany’s position vis-à-vis the US in respect of the aforementioned quid pro quo and would only enable the US to drive a tougher bargain,” Yafimava said.

In early January, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reportedly said the federal government will not change its position on Nord Stream 2.

Regarding alleged incidents with other vessels and low-flying “foreign planes” reportedly appearing close to Nord Stream 2’s vessels, Yafimava explained that according to the Danish maritime authority notice to mariners, there is a temporary prohibited area with a radius of 1.5 nautical miles around Fortuna and Cherskiy. “If any of the alleged third-party interference incidents resulted in violation of that prohibited area it would be for the Danish authorities to take measures to stop it,” she explained.

Asked what are the next steps after Nord Stream 2 is completed in Danish waters and when is it supposed to come into operation, Yafimava said, “I think Nord Stream could finalize construction of both strings in 2021, but the start of operations appears more uncertain – subject to German NRA certification and whether the politics will be able to influence this independent entity’s decision – and could be anything between winter 2021-22 and winter 2023-24”.

Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2 said the company does not comment on speculations on US sanctions actions on the project. “The commissioning of Nord Stream 2 is in the interest of Europe’s energy security, European consumers, and EU economic competitiveness,” the spokesperson said. “We agree with European governments and the EU Commission that US sanctions actions against companies conducting legitimate business in the EU on the Nord Stream 2 project are contrary to international law and a violation of Europe’s energy sovereignty,” the Nord Stream 2 spokesperson argued, adding that it is up to these governments and the European Commission to protect companies operating in Europe from unlawful extraterritorial sanctions.

On January 18, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said the EU opposes unilateral sanctions affecting EU companies conducting legitimate and lawful business activities as is the case of the legislation vis-à-vis Nord Stream 2.

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