Gazprom has finished laying the second leg of the Nord Stream 2 subsea gas export pipeline in Denmark’s Baltic Sea maritime zone, with pipelay vessel Fortuna now moving to German waters.

According to German maritime authorities and vessel traffic websites, Fortuna has to install barely more than 10 kilometres of the second leg in German waters, thus completing the subsea construction phase of the project.

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Although the operator informed German authorities of its plan for Fortuna to work in the country’s waters until 12 September, industry analysts in Moscow expect the vessel may be able to accelerate the schedule for the remaining shallow-water section.

Gazprom promises

Gazprom has repeatedly signalled that it may be able to deliver additional volumes of Russian gas to meet strong European demand, so long as it faces no further obstacles in commissioning the pipeline.

Supplies of Russian gas have tightened in recent months, coinciding with the final stages of Nord Stream 2, a contentious project that has been opposed by the US and has affected existing gas transit countries such as Ukraine and Poland.

As final obstacles to the pipeline have fallen away, the latest Russian pronouncement suggests it could deliver a total 5.6 billion cubic metres by the end of this year.

However, analysts in Moscow said this extra volume will only partly compensate customers in Europe for the fall in gas deliveries to Germany via Russia's Yamal pipeline, which runs through Belarus and Poland. It has been affected by a fire at processing facilities in West Siberia.

According to German transmission operator Gascade, Gazprom has delivered gas at an average rate of 33.4 million cubic metres per day via the Yamal pipeline so far this month, against the average of 69.7 MMcmd in July.

Gazprom has linked the decline in supplies via the Yamal pipeline to the fire in West Siberia, although Gascade reported that the reduction started several days before the incident.

European leaders have, in the meantime, been muted in their support for Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s strong concerns over Nord Stream 2, ignoring statements he made during a visit to Kiev by outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the weekend.

“We are considering this project solely through the prism of security. It is a dangerous geopolitical weapon of the Kremlin,” Zelensky said.

Even now, when Nord Stream 2 has yet to be completed, “it is clear who controls gas prices in Europe and their growth”, he added.

Merkel reportedly told Zelensky that Ukraine should focus on getting Gazprom to the negotiating table to secure long-term Russian transit supplies after the expiration of their current transit agreement at the end of 2024, rather than trying to halt Nord Stream 2.

After 2024, Europe will continue to import gas from Russia and “it is important that Ukraine remains a transit country and that this agreement is extended”, she said.

Merkel gave assurances that Nord Stream 2 will operate within the European legal framework and will have to comply with a set of market regulations, known as the Third Energy Package. “If Russia tries to use this pipeline as a weapon, the issue of sanctions will be raised,” she said.

She suggested that Ukraine and Germany expand their co-operation on energy issues to ease Kiev’s reliance on an unpredictable neighbour and boost its energy security.

The Minister for Economic Affairs & Energy, Peter Altmaier, arrived in Kiev on Monday to represent Germany at Ukraine’s Crimea Platform Summit. He will also “participate in important talks” on these issues, Merkel said.

Hydrogen memo

To these ends, a draft memorandum has already been signed between German gas player RWE Supply & Trading and Ukraine state-run gas importer and distributor Naftohaz Ukrainy.

Both companies have agreed to consider joint action in projects to produce and store green hydrogen and ammonia in Ukraine and export them to Germany.

Naftohaz and RWE also agreed to co-operate in exploring commercial opportunities for the sale of green hydrogen from Ukraine in Europe, focusing on the markets supplied by RWE.

“The partners will also consider working together to share knowledge and technical aspects of building a green hydrogen value chain,” Naftohaz said.

However, Zelensky has warned that Ukraine’s switch to green energy will take years, and urged Western powers to provide “energy security guarantees” to his country in the near term.