The head of Ukraine's state gas giant has warned European leaders of a potential military threat against the nation posed by Russia if the controversial and sanctions-hit Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is ever put into operation.
The project, led by Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom, is currently under development and aims to take Russian gas to Germany.
Andrey Kobolev, chairman of Ukraine’s state gas producer and distributor Naftohaz Ukrainy, said in a social media post that, so long as the country's gas pipeline network is key to exporting Russian gas to European countries, it can be considered "a key element in (Ukraine's) defence system".
'Issue of life or death' for Ukrainians - Kobolev
Should Nord Stream 2 become operational, it would reduce the importance of Ukraine's pipeline infrastructure in supplying Europe with gas, making the country more vulnerable to Russian aggression, Kobolev argued.
“That’s why halting Nord Stream 2 is an issue of life or death” for citizens of Ukraine, he wrote.
“Nord Stream 2 is economically senseless, however it has an evident geopolitical goal," he added.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, which led to US and European sanctions against the Kremlin, Russian state controlled companies and some individuals.
'Excellent project for European energy security' - Peskov
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused US authorities of forcing Russia to continue “paying (gas transit fees) to Ukraine”, a neighbour he described as being "unfriendly to Russia".
On Thursday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov continued this rhetoric, saying that Nord Stream 2 is “an excellent project for European energy security”.
“Our US partners should have less interest in Nord Stream 2 and pay more attention to their (own) energy security," Peskov said, referring to heavy snowstorms in Texas that have left millions of residents without power.
US President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly missed a deadline earlier this week to present proposals on new sanctions against the Gazprom-led project and contractors that assist in the completion of the project, which is already delayed for over one year because of the US restrictions.
Project will 'further weaponise Russia's energy resources' - US lawmakers
Four Washington lawmakers reacted to the delay on Wednesday, sending a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to request an urgent briefing on efforts of the Biden’s administration to add new measures against Nord Stream 2 under two earlier enacted acts to “protect Europe’s energy security”.
“If completed, Nord Stream 2 would enable the Putin regime to further weaponise Russia’s energy resources to exert political pressure throughout Europe. It would also allow Putin to bypass Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of critical transit revenues and making it more vulnerable to Russian aggression,” the letter said.
According to estimates, about one-third of Russia's budget resources have been spent annually on building Russian military and law enforcement forces since 2014.
US lawmakers said that, besides already imposed sanctions on Russian pipelaying barge Fortuna, restrictions should be immediately introduced against another pipelaying vessel, Akademik Chersky, as well as a flotilla of 13 tugs and vessels.
These vessels are being viewed as supporting the operations of the Fortuna, which resumed construction of the first uncompleted segment of the Russian gas pipeline in Denmark's Baltic Sea waters at the end of January.