Russia's Gazprom says Nord Stream 2 pipeline 'fully completed'

Moscow (AFP) –


Moscow announced Friday the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which critics say will increase Europe's dependence on Russian gas and bypasses a key EU ally, Ukraine.

"Chairman of the Management Committee Alexei Miller said that this morning at 8.45 Moscow time (05:45 GMT) construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was fully completed," Gazprom said in a statement.

Nord Stream 2 is expected to double natural gas supplies from Russia to Germany, but it has divided European capitals and raised tensions between the bloc and Washington.

A key controversy is that it diverts supplies from an existing route through Ukraine and is expected to deprive the EU's partner of crucial transit fees from Russia.

Ukraine -- in conflict with Russia since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea -- has warned Europe that Nord Stream 2 could be used by Moscow as a geopolitical pressure vice.

In previous energy disputes, Russia has cut gas supplies to Kiev. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month described the pipeline as "a dangerous geopolitical weapon".

The project is also fiercely opposed by Poland and the Baltic states, who fear Russia will use it as a geopolitical weapon in disputes.

Running from Russia's Baltic coast to northeastern Germany, the underwater, 1,200-kilometre (745-mile) pipeline follows the same route as Nord Stream 1, which was completed over a decade ago.

Like its twin, Nord Stream 2 will be able to pipe 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year to Europe, increasing the continent's access to relatively cheap natural gas at a time of falling domestic production.

- US pushback -

Gazprom has a majority stake in the 10-billion-euro ($12 billion) project. Germany's Uniper and Wintershall, France's Engie, the Anglo-Dutch firm Shell and Austria's OMV are also involved.

Former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder serves as chairman of the Nord Stream's shareholders committee.

Russia and Germany insist Nord Stream 2 is a purely commercial project, but analysts disagree about the project's economic benefits.

A 2018 report by German think-tank DIW said it was unnecessary and undertaken based on forecasts that "significantly overestimate" demand in Germany and Europe.

Germany -- Europe's top economy -- imports around 40 percent of its gas from Russia, and Berlin believes the pipeline has a role to play in Germany's transition away from coal and nuclear energy.

The United States has warily given the green light for the project.

Like predecessors Barack Obama and Donald Trump, US President Joe Biden had objected to the project, saying it is a bad deal for Europe and a security risk.

But critics of this argument pointed out that the US also wants to boost sales of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

US sanctions on Russian vessels laying the pipeline succeeded in delaying Nord Stream 2, angering Germany.

But Biden, eager to rebuild transatlantic ties that were badly strained by Trump, unexpectedly waived sanctions in May on the Russian-controlled company behind the project.

Analysts saw the move as an olive branch to Berlin, whose support Washington is counting on in the face of other challenges, including a rising China.

Zelensky said the sanctions waiver was a win for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Reaffirming support for Ukraine, Biden hosted Zelensky at the White House in early September.

After the meeting Zelensky told reporters Biden had assured him the United States would impose sanctions on the pipeline if there were "violations" from Russia that would create problems for Ukraine's energy security.