The final segment of the second line of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 offshore gas pipeline was welded in the German Baltic Sea on Monday, its operator says.

Gazprom’s wholly owned Swiss-registered subsidiary, Nord Stream 2, said pipelay barge Fortuna welded the segment, completing the long-awaited tie-in of the pipeline.

Construction began in 2018, before being brought to a standstill in December 2019 after the introduction of US sanctions against contractors of the project.

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After the welded segment is lowered to the sea bottom, the operator said it will be capable of proceeding with pre-commissioning activities.

It added that the goal is to put the controversial pipeline into operation this year.

The project consists of two parallel pipelines running from north-west Russia across the Baltic Sea to an onshore exit point near the German port of Lubmin.

The project is technically capable of bringing more than 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to the European market per year.

However, Nord Stream 2 is expected to operate at half of its capacity following last month’s decision by a German court that enforced the pipelines’ throughput restriction under the European Union’s Third Energy Package gas market regulations.

Gazprom executives have acknowledged that the start-up of Nord Stream 2 might lead to a change of gas delivery routes to Europe later this year, but it would not increase the volumes that the monopoly will be able to deliver to European markets.

Spot prices in Europe hit $600 per 1000 cubic metres earlier in September after it became clear that the continent will enter the winter with much less gas in its underground storage facilities.

Gazprom has been unable to answer calls for higher pipeline imports from Russia, even though it expects its production to increase by 55 Bcm this year to a 10-year high of 510 Bcm.

Moscow analysts expect Nord Stream 2 to operate significantly below its nameplate capacity over the next few years, thus providing no positive input to the company’s earnings.