Gazprom-owned operator Nord Stream 2 has completed laying two short, shallow-water segments of its gas export pipeline in Germany's Baltic Sea waters over the weekend, with the pipelaying barge Fortuna returning to the port of Wismar.

Echoing earlier reports, Nord Stream 2 said it now expects to resume construction of two longer segments of the pipeline in Danish waters in mid-January. though it did not provide further details.

Once finished, these two segments will enable Nord Stream 2 to move into the commissioning phase of the project, which is already more than a year behind the original schedule because of US sanctions.

Speaking in Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, acknowledged that the sanctions are “complicating” the pipeline project, which the Kremlin believes is needed for European energy security.

Peskov has described the US sanctions as a “completely overt, cowboy, raider attack” on the project, adding that Russia has met with an “unfriendly and openly hostile operating environment” in the West.

However, Gazprom has been pushing ahead with Nord Stream 2 and “is getting closer to the finalization of this project”, he said.

Peskov said that Russia and its European partners want the project to be brought on stream for the benefit of “European consumers and Russian gas suppliers”.

The Kremlin’s reputation in the West has been tarnished by independent investigation group Bellingcat alleging that Russia’s domestic intelligence service FSB played a role in masterminding the attempted poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, according to political observers in Moscow.

Two YouTube videos with details of Bellingcat’s investigation into Navalny's poisoning, released earlier in December, each gathered more than 20 million views within one week, giving a boost to calls for European Union politicians to introduce new sanctions against Russia.

In a pre-emptive response, the Kremlin said it has expanded the undisclosed list of European officials barred from entering Russia for calling for such measures against the country.

In October, the EU sanctioned several Russian officials over Navalny’s poisoning.

However, the EU did not heed calls from European politicians to take punitive measures against Nord Stream 2.