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5th Jul 2020

Russia: 'Nothing will stop' Germany gas pipeline

  • Last 160km segment to be laid in Danish waters after permit finalised (Photo: nordstream2.com)

"Nothing will stop" Nord Stream 2, Russia has said, after new US sanctions on a pipeline that is seeing the EU side with Russia against its transatlantic ally.

"Our view remains the same: nothing will stop the finalisation of Nord Stream 2 [NS2]. And we leave to Germany and other EU member states to pass judgement on such US measures," Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told EUobserver on Monday (29 June).

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  • Swiss pipe-laying ship stopped work after first round of US sanctions (Photo: nord-stream2.com)

The Russian-owned firm building the pipe from Russia to Germany, the Nord Stream 2 consortium in Switzerland, was equally bullish.

"Our shareholder and the five financial investors are fully committed to the project, as are Nord Stream 2's suppliers," it told this website, also on Monday.

The Russian firm Gazprom is its main shareholder and the five EU energy firms co-financing the €10 billion scheme are Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall.

They spoke after US congressmen tabled a bill last week called the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Clarification Act.

The US move would impose penalties on individuals, such as corporate persons and shareholders, involved in building NS2, according to Alan Riley, a legal expert at US think-tank the Atlantic Council.

"The bill reaches persons who 'facilitate' pipe-laying activities," he said.

But it would not enable the US to go after German officials who issued permits or mayors of ports where NS2-linked ships had docked, as Berlin had claimed last week, Riley added.

"Arms or emanations of the state are not caught by the sanctions bill," he said.

"To reach a mayor, it would amount to a facilitation of a facilitation of a facilitation ... this would be too remote," Riley said.

The US bill, in any case, prompted a push-back by Germany.

"New sanctions would constitute a serious interference in European energy security and EU sovereignty," its foreign ministry said last week.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also took Germany and Russia's side due to "German pressure", according to an EU source.

The European Commission was creating an "enhanced sanctions mechanism that will improve Europe's resilience to the effects of extraterritoriality of [the US] sanctions," Borrell said last week, replying to a German MEPs' question.

"The EU is fully committed to the protection of ... natural persons and legal entities exercising their rights," he added.

Pipe-laying suspended

The US first imposed sanctions on firms building NS2 last December.

These forced Swiss firm Allseas, whose ship was laying the final 160km segment of the 2,460km pipe in the Baltic Sea, to stop work.

And the US ambassador to the EU, Ronald Gidwitz, justified America's actions last week.

NS2 would increase EU energy dependency on Russia and "it's very easy to be held hostage when a significant amount of your gas is cut off," the way Russia cut off Ukraine's gas in the past, he told press in Brussels.

Asked by EUobserver if he thought NS2 would still be built, he noted: "Well, the Russians are certainly hoping it comes back to life. They've got a pipe-laying ship nearby".

The Russian ship, the Akademik Cherskiy, which could take over from Allseas, has been moored in the German port of Mukran, according to the Reuters news agency.

It is awaiting a new permit from Denmark's Energy Agency (DEA), in whose waters the last NS2 link lies, because the Russian ship uses anchors, while the Swiss one did not.

The DEA also has a pending appeal against its original permit, filed by a Polish NGO, on grounds NS2 construction could disturb World War 2-era chemical munitions on the sea bed, harming wildlife.

The NS2 consortium declined to comment on the Akademik Cherskiy. "We will inform about our plans in due time," it said.

But the Russian firm took for granted that the Danes would not cause problems. "It [the NGO appeal] has no effect on our ability to construct the pipeline," the consortium said.

Fanning flames

Technical niceties aside, that still left the geopolitics of NS2 as a sore point.

For his part, Borrell warned that it was dividing Western allies.

"The damage inflicted on the EU's economic interests by US sanctions weakens transatlantic unity and the posture of firmness towards Russia's actions, jeopardising, and threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine since 2014," he said.

But his reasoning might have sounded weird to NS2's opponents in the EU, such as Poland and the Nordic states, who say it is Berlin's cozying up to Moscow that is undermining the EU's "firmness towards Russia".

Borrell might also have sounded strange to some German politicians, such as liberal MP Alexander Lambsdorff, the deputy head of Germany's opposition Free Democratic Party.

Recalling that Russia, last year, assassinated a Georgian exile in a shooting in broad daylight in a Berlin park, Lambsdorff recently told Bild, a German newspaper, that: "We [Germany] should think three times about whether we should really support such a pipeline".

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen what kind of "mechanism" the EU commission comes up with.

But its previous attempt to counter extraterritorial US sanctions, on Iran, using a "special purpose vehicle" for payments did nothing to stop EU firms fleeing Tehran.

"We can't stop anybody buying gas from Russia, but we can make it more difficult and we make no bones about it," Gidwitz, the US ambassador, said.

"Rather than fanning the flames of division between the EU and the US, it would be better for Berlin ... to work with Washington on further clarifying this bill," Riley, from the Atlantic Council, said.

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