In late autumn, the number of challenges looming over the Nord Stream 2 project increased due to the United States' pressure: on November 26, the Norwegian DNV GL classification society stopped servicing Nord Stream 2 as a result of American sanctions, Bloomberg reported. This was the company's reaction to the US State Department's recent clarification of the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act (PEESA). The document prohibits the provision of services, goods, or financing aimed to modernize or install equipment on ships to operate under the Nord Stream 2 or Turkish Stream projects.
As interpreted by other media, DNV GL has not yet decided to refuse certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline system. Even though it is only about pipe-laying companies so far, this poses a serious problem – now Gazprom will have to look for new certifiers for special-purpose ships.
Further US sanctions will only scale up – at least this is the new US leader Joseph Biden's publicly visible position. And still, the hopes are high for German diplomacy. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she expects changes in interacting with Washington under Biden. The German government has once again notified the US authorities that extraterritorial sanctions against Nord Stream 2 are unacceptable, and puts its stake on a constructive dialogue with the US side in this sphere.
It is worth considering that sanctions against the gas pipeline project in the Baltic sea are in a "military" package, and Donald Trump, who has yet to transfer powers to Joe Biden, can slow down this defense document, as he has sharply opposed the current version of the budget having a number of points he is absolutely uncomfortable with. Thus, sanctions against Nord Stream-2 may automatically get hung up.
Apart from the sanctions component, Gazprom may be hampered by seasonal storms in the Baltic Sea. However, the Nord Stream 2 operator remains optimistic and even announces the possibility of starting the completion of the Trans-Baltic pipe in December.
And the "winter" news flow on the pipeline's future is still extensive (like the autumn one) but more multidirectional. There are both negative news about the increased US sanctions pressure on the Trans-Baltic project and positive news – for instance, concerning the German authorities' concurrent review of a plan for completing the gas pipeline.
On December 4, the media "discovered" a clause in the draft US defense budget on expanding sanctions against further construction of Nord Stream 2 (although this "applied" package was well-known before). But there is a new important detail – the document has now been approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Just a few days earlier, the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany (BSH) announced that it had agreed to build Nord Stream 2 in December. On December 5, the permit came into effect officially. The Fortuna barge, which can complete the gas pipeline after a change of ownership, will lay pipes along the German offshore section of Nord Stream 2. On December 5, another Russian pipe layer, Akademik Chersky, stopped in front of the southern cape of the Bornholm island near the zone where one of the Nord Stream 2 sections is being completed. However, she was gone on December 8 already, which looks like preparatory maneuvers. The ships will most likely work in sync with each other. Moreover, Gazprom has grown stronger in forming strategies for utilizing this future-oriented Trans-Baltic system. Thus, December 3 saw the giant's export arm "Gazprom export" announce establishing a new long-term gas delivery contract with the Austrian OMV group.
An idea of establishing an ecological fund to circumvent US sanctions has also emerged. The German Bild newspaper claims that a climate protection foundation may be created by initiative of Manuela Schwesig, the Prime Minister of the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. At which point German companies won't violate the US sanctions regime, operating without direct interaction with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline operator. This is perhaps efficient, given the US authorities' promise not to target German state structures and officials when generating sanctions packages against Nord Stream 2. The only issue is the political readiness of the German authorities to go the whole hog against the opinion of the United States. The latter has publicly urged Germany to "freeze" the project of building the Baltic Sea gas pipeline. On December 7, the German Energy Ministry provided a response, reminding that it did not consider extraterritorial sanctions compatible with international law.