The US has introduced new sanctions on a Russian shipowner intended to halt work on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
The sanctions could delay or prevent a pipelaying barge currently on standby in the Baltic Sea from returning to work on the subsea pipeline, which is designed to carry Russian export gas to markets in Europe and is said to be 90% complete.
US mulls new 'near-term' actions
The US State Department announced that the owner of the pipelay barge Fortuna, Moscow-based KVT-Rus, is being sanctioned under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act "for knowingly selling, leasing, or providing to the Russian Federation goods, services, technology, information, or support for the construction of Russian energy export pipelines".
The US said it would consider further actions "in the near term".
News of the impending additional sanctions drew ire from German officials earlier this week.
“We are taking note of the announcement with regret,” a spokesman for Germany's Economy Ministry said, as quoted by Reuters.
German business daily Handelsblatt reported on Monday that amendments to US sanctions were set to go into effect 19 January.
Last week, Fortuna started its journey from the German port of Wismar to a location near the Danish Island of Bornholm.
However, its voyage was halted several hours later and Fortuna was moored near the German port of Rostock, with Nord Stream 2 officials saying the vessel needed to undergo further preparations before resuming construction activities.
According to a Nord Stream 2 notice to the Danish Maritime Agency, Fortuna was due on 15 January to resume laying a segment of the gas pipeline that had been abandoned by Swiss specialised maritime contractor Allseas in late 2019 as a round of US sanctions were set to go into effect.
With sanctions in place, Fortuna is unlikely to be able to find employment in the West after it is eventually released from Nord Stream 2 project.
US 'will work with friends and allies'
The State Department announcement, which came in the final hours of the term of US President Donald Trump, continued: "Nord Stream 2, if completed, would give Russia the means to completely bypass Ukraine, depriving Ukraine of vital revenues and opening it up to further Russian aggressive actions, while providing the means to use natural resources as a tool of political pressure and malign influence against western Europe.
"Today’s announcement demonstrates that the United States is not afraid to hold accountable those who continue to aid and abet this tool of Russian coercion."
The message said the US "will continue to work with our friends and allies to ensure Europe has a reliable, diversified energy supply network that does not undermine collective security".
Meanwhile, sanctions are not expected to have any material effect on KVT-Rus, which employs just one person, Sergey Malkov, listed as executive director.
According to Russia's company register, the firm’s foundation capital is just 10,000 rubles ($135), with the company owned by Malkov and another Russian, Vladimir Lavrov.
Norway’s registrar and classification society DNV GL, Denmark’s engineering and architecture consultant Ramboll, the Zurich Insurance Group and German construction and engineering group Bilfinger have reportedly cancelled contracts with Nord Stream 2 this month to avoid being new targets of US sanctions.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the Kremlin is "studying [new] restrictions against Nord Stream 2 to be able to continue work to finalise the project".