The US has made fresh moves to target the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project from Russia to Europe with sanctions.
The US State Department has prepared a new report to identify pipelay vessels that are seen capable of completing the remaining offshore segment of the gas export pipeline project, as well as foreign persons and companies connected with them.
According to a department’s statement, these persons and companies may have "knowingly sold, leased or provided those vessels for the construction of the project; or facilitated deceptive or structured transactions to provide those vessels".
The report is set to be submitted to US Congress, the statement said, with additional information to be used to clarify and expand the scope of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 that were approved at the end of the last year by the Congress by the passing of the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act.
The move follows the end of an upgrading process to the pipelay vessel Akademik Chersky, which has spent five months in the German port of Mukran where a new anchor-positioning system, pipe handling and welding equipment are believed to have been installed.
Since 6 October, Chersky has been idle in Russian territorial waters near the country’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad.
Meanwhile, the pipelaying barge Fortuna remains close to the uncompleted Nord Stream 2 construction site in Danish waters.
The Fortuna, which earlier laid pipelines for Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2, is now moored near the German port of Wismar.
Although the US State Department has not mentioned the names of the two vessels in its public statement, Gazprom subsidiary Gazpromflot and Russian privately held building contractor Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy have earlier distanced themselves from the Chersky and Fortuna.
According to Russian corporate disclosures, ownership over Chersky fell from Gazflot into hands of a real estate firm in St Petersburg, while Mezhregiontruboprovodstroy said that it never owned Fortuna.
The State Department said that it will not impose sanctions against those persons or companies that “immediately engage in, and complete within 30 days [from 20 October], a good-faith wind down of activities” to provide these vessels to Nord Stream 2.
The State Department and the Department of the Treasury are "prepared to use the full range of sanctions authorities to halt construction" of Nord Stream 2, the statement said.
“Russia uses its energy export pipelines to create national and regional dependencies on Russian energy supplies, leveraging these dependencies to expand its political, economic, and military influence, weaken European security, and undermine US national security and foreign policy interests,” the statement added.