The Gazprom-owned operator of the controversial Nord Stream 2 subsea export pipeline across the Baltic Sea to Germany has mobilised a second pipelay vessel as the Russian gas project remains in the crosshairs of governments in the US and Europe.

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The project is highly contentions as it is seen as potentially increasing Western Europe's dependence on Russian gas, while providing a strategic source of revenue for Russia and the Kremlin.

Eponymous operator Nord Stream 2 has mobilised the Akademik Chersky to the south-east of Bornholm Island in the Danish maritime sector after months of technical upgrades and legal preparations to avoid potential new US sanctions.

Vessel gets to work

The operator said in a statement to Russian state-owned news agency Tass that the vessel is ready to re-start the construction of Line A where the pipe was left following the hasty withdrawal of another pipelayer, Solitaire, in December 2019.

Swiss maritime contractor Allseas called off the Solitaire from the pipelay route in Denmark on the eve of approval of the first round of US sanctions against the Russian project by former US president Donald Trump.

The operator has become increasingly optimistic on the prospects of the gas pipeline recently following the lack of any new action against Nord Stream 2 from the new US administration of President Joe Biden.

According to an updated note released by the Danish Maritime Agency, construction of Nord Stream 2’s two lines, A and B, is being conducted by Chersky and another pipelay barge, Fortuna, with several other supporting vessels, and is due to be completed in September.

Both pipelayers are expected to cross the Danish-German maritime border and continue laying the pipe in German waters to connect pipelines to previously build shallow-water segments running to the shore.

According to Nord Stream 2, following the re-start of the pipelay work by Fortuna at the end of February, some 121 kilometres of gas pipelines remained to be laid as of 31 March.

Germany-Czech Republic line

In apparent anticipation of the imminent start of operations at Nord Stream 2, Russo-German gas pipeline operator Gascade said that it completed the commissioning of the second line of the Eugal onshore gas pipeline in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Eugal's two lines have been tailored to accept gas that it set to arrive from Russia once Nord Stream 2 is operational, at an annual rate of 55 billion cubic metres of gas.

Nord Stream 2 has also celebrated another victory in Germany where the government, headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, had refused to link Nord Stream 2 with new European sanctions, introduced in response to alleged attempts by Russian authorities to poison leading opposition figures with a Novichok nerve agent, coupled with a widening crackdown on freedoms in Russia.

According to German press reports, the Federal Maritime & Hydrographic Agency (BSH) has rejected an appeal from two German bodies to halt upcoming Nord Stream 2 pipelay work in German waters because of environmental concerns.

However, earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, declared a hunger strike in a labour camp, citing refusal of the camp’s administration to allow external medical assistance, potentially moving the issue of sanctions against Russia back to the top of the European political agenda.