Russian giant Gazprom has responded to the threat of expanded US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline by kicking off its completion. On December 11, project operator Nord Stream 2 AG announced that the special Fortuna ship had begun laying the unfinished section in the German waters. It is planned to lay 2.6 kilometers of pipes at a depth of 30 meters.
This followed a loud optimistic statement by Rainer Seele, the head of the Austrian OMV group, Gazprom's Nord Stream 2 partner company. On December 9, Mr. Seele said he expected to complete the gas pipeline in German waters by the end of the year. " Work in German waters is to be finalized in December 2020. The next season begins in January, which is unfavorable for laying pipelines along the bottom due to changes in the water level," he said during a press conference dedicated to the business climate in Russia and prospects for economic development in 2021.
However, efforts in the German zone are narrow. And Russian pipe-laying companies will have to complete work along a more complex 50-kilometer-long section, i.e. in the exclusive economic zone of Denmark. The Akademik Chersky, Russia's key pipe-laying ship, is still maneuvering in the Baltic, but has not started construction in the Danish waters.
In any case, the signal about Gazprom's having resumed operations in the Baltic Sea is very important both psychologically and as regards costs in public image in terms of countering US sanctions. Typically, when the dogs bark, the camels just keep walking. Moreover, the Nord Stream 2 narrative has faded into insignificance in the United States. There is an unremitting internal political struggle there, with Donald Trump still failing to recognize Joe Biden's victory in the presidential election. He was not even confused by the December 14 electoral vote, which confirmed Biden's election as the national leader. The American propaganda claiming the Nord Stream 2 project's harmfulness has not stopped. "US sanctions will be imposed until construction of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline completely stops," Deputy Assistant Secretary for Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Christopher Robinson said at the Atlantic Council conference on December 17. "I would say that these sanctions are working, and we will stop this pipeline. We don’t want to impose sanctions, but we will use these powers and these tools to stop the project," he said. One must suppose that the Russian leadership and Gazprom are dismissive of Mr. Robinson's statement and regard it as low-priority.
December 17 saw Russian President Vladimir Putin say he had no doubts about the successful completion of Nord Stream 2. During his annual big press conference, he also pointed to his expectations of the new US administration's political credibility under President-elect Joe Biden. Vladimir Putin emphasized that the US authorities should bestow respect to European countries interested in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.
A day earlier, on December 16, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech at the Bundestag and announced the need to execute the trans-Baltic gas pipeline project. "Germany continues viewing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a beneficial economic project, the federal government's position remains unchanged," Frau Merkel said.
The German private sector also keeps supporting Nord Stream 2. "US sanctions are unacceptable," Executive Director of the Eastern Committee of the German Economy Michael Harms said on December 17.
Among protective measures against US sanctions is, among other things, the Fortune barge's "judiciary marathon". She has once again changed its owner and has been placed on the balance sheet with a new Russian enterprise. According to RBC, the ship is now owned by LLC "KVT-Rus". And its previous owner was the Universal transport group.