Russian authorities issued a public statement on the Gazprom-led gas export pipeline Nord Stream 2 as 2021 drew to a close, declaring that the start-up of its operations now depends solely on approvals that are pending in Germany.

Speaking during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of the last year, Gazprom executive board chairman Alexei Miller said that both lines of the trunkline had been filled with gas to the required working pressure.

“Nord Stream 2 is ready for operations,” Putin proclaimed as part of the meeting was broadcast by state television channel Rossiya24. “Now everything depends on our partners, consumers in Europe, in Germany,” he added.

The pipeline can start delivering “large additional volumes of Russian gas” to the continent as soon as the European regulator certifies the project operator, Putin said.

Gazprom reported a 14% growth in gas production in Russia to 515 billion cubic metres in 2021, however, exports outside Russia grew by just 3% last year against 2020.

Nord Stream 2 has a nameplate throughput capacity of 55 billion cubic metres of gas per year.

However, like older Nord Stream pipeline, that is already operational, capacity can go higher than the nameplate figure, suggesting that Gazprom could fully bypass gas deliveries to north-western Europe via existing onshore routes running via Poland and Ukraine, if regulators were to allow this.

Regulatory hurdle

To be able to pump gas at full capacity, Nord Stream 2 has to be certified as an independent transmission operator by the German Federal Network Agency Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA).

In November, the regulator told Nord Stream 2 and Gazprom to reorganise the asset ownership and domicile of the pipeline operator before it can proceed with the consideration of its application for such status.

A BNetzA spokesperson has been quoted by Russian state news agency Tass as saying that the agency is still waiting for the resubmission of the Nord Stream 2 application to reflect requested changes.

The energy regulator's president Jochen Homann has signalled that a decision on certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will not be forthcoming in the first half of 2022.

According to a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the Kremlin is currently working to arrange a visit of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to Moscow, with Russia “having no doubts in being capable of agreeing with her” on Nord Stream 2.

Following her appointment last year, Baerbock said that “this pipeline can not be approved because it does not meet the requirements of European energy law and the security issues are still in the room anyway”.

Sanctions looming

Russian moves to bypass Ukraine come amid tensions between Russia and its pro-Western neighbour and warnings from the European Union of “unprecedented” measures if Russia shows further aggression towards Kiev.

These unspecified measures could potentially include sanctions against the new pipeline.

US President Joe Biden issued a statement on Sunday reassuring his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky that Washington and its allies “will respond decisively” if Russia invades its neighbour, following a significant military build-up at the border.

Zelensky tweeted that he appreciated the United States’ “unwavering support” and said a telephone call between the two men “proves the special nature” of the two countries’ relationship.

US and Russian diplomats are scheduled to hold talks next week in Geneva to discuss the crisis.