Russia has completed the laying of a controversial gas pipeline to Europe in defiance of western sanctions, president Vladimir Putin said as he derided US attempts to prevent its construction.
Nord Stream 2, which will pump gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea, has been beset by financial and legal sanctions from the US and EU states that say it will increase Russia’s leverage over European energy supplies, making it a bone of contention among opponents of the Kremlin.
Putin on Friday announced that despite such roadblocks, which included sanctions that forced international contractors to abandon the project and a restructuring of its funding, the first of its two pipes was fully laid and gas supplies could begin in 10 days.
“Two and a half hours ago, the laying of the first string of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was successfully completed . . . Work on the entire length has been completed, including the offshore section,” Putin said in his annual speech to Russia’s business elite at the St Petersburg Economic Forum.
“We are ready to continue implementing similar high-tech projects with our European and other partners. We hope that the logic of mutual benefit and gains will inevitably prevail over all sorts of artificial barriers in the current political environment.”
The announcement came less than two weeks before Putin meets US president Joe Biden in Geneva for talks aimed at easing tensions between Moscow and the west.
Biden last month waived additional sanctions against the pipeline’s operator in a tacit admission that Washington was unable to prevent the pipeline, which was more than two years behind schedule, from being completed.
Berlin has meanwhile supported the pipeline, despite widespread opposition from eastern EU countries, complicating the US calculus as Biden seeks to strengthen relations with Germany. The US has said it remains opposed to Nord Stream 2, despite the sanctions waiver.
“The new American administration says it wants to build good relations with its main partners in Europe,” Putin said. “Well, how can you build good relations with partners if you do not care about their interests? This is just some kind of nonsense.”
Putin also said he believed US sanctions suggested that Washington “apparently does not respect its currency very much, since it is used as an instrument of competition and political struggle, which damages the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.”
Sanctions hurt the world economy, he added. “They shrink it instead of helping to develop it.”
US and EU opposition to the pipeline has centred on fears that the Kremlin will use increased gas exports as political leverage over European countries, and that its true purpose is to avoid existing pipelines through Ukraine, thus depriving Kyiv of transit revenue.
Both Russia and Germany say it is a purely economic project that will ensure future EU gas demand is met. Moscow always vowed the pipeline would be completed regardless of western pressure.
This year, Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas producer, had to refit some of its ships to lay its last stretch after sanctions prompted Swiss contractor Allseas to withdraw, and several European insurers and engineering companies pulled out.
European energy companies Shell, Wintershall, Engie, Uniper and OMV have paid for half of the project’s $11bn construction cost.