US President Joe Biden has defended his administration's decision to waive sanctions against the operator of the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas export pipeline project.

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The US Department of Justice issued a recommendation on 19 May that it was in the national interest to waive the application of sanctions on the Swiss-registered developer, Nord Stream 2 AG; its chief executive, Matthias Warnig; and its corporate officers.

The administration, while remaining opposed to the project, has suggested the additional sanctions could harm US relations with Germany and other European allies.

“It is almost completely finished,” Biden told reporters as he was leaving the White House on Tuesday.

“To go ahead and impose sanctions now, I think, is counter-productive in terms of our European relations.”

However, the administration last week extended sanctions against 13 Russian-owned vessels, including the pipelay vessel Akademik Cherskiy.

The US has repeatedly said that Nord Stream 2 poses a threat to European energy security by increasing Russia's grip over its gas markets.

Legal challenge

Biden’s stance coincides with predictions by some industry analysts that Nord Stream 2 is unlikely to have an immediate effect on Russian gas pipeline deliveries to Europe, where state-controlled Gazprom already has more than 30% of the market.

Nord Stream 2 has been unsuccessfully trying to appeal against a decision by the European Commission to restrict its annual capacity of 55 billion cubic metres of gas to 50% under European Union anti-monopoly gas market regulations.

Gazprom also faces a legal battle with Poland’s Office of Competition & Consumer Protection, which had ordered a halt to the project.

In October last year, the Polish watchdog told five European companies — Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall Dea, Austria’s OMV, Anglo-Dutch supermajor Shell and France’s Engie — to annul their agreements to provide loans to Nord Stream 2 in exchange for obtaining 10% stakes in the pipeline.

The agency imposed hefty fines on Gazprom and the five companies for ignoring its earlier ruling, applicable to all EU member states, and forming a joint venture to build the gas pipeline.

Merkel's approval

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has applauded the US decision on waivers and said she will discuss the project with Biden at the G7 summit in the UK between 11 and 13 June, according to Bloomberg.

Nord Stream 2 is estimated to have less than 70 kilometres of pipeline left to be installed in the Danish maritime sector. The pipelay vessel Fortuna moved into German waters after completing its work on the pipeline last week.

According to political observers in Moscow, the White House has apparently decided to hold talks with President Vladimir Putin in hopes of easing some long-running tensions between the countries.

The Kremlin confirmed that Biden and Putin are due to meet in Geneva for talks on 16 June.