Has Nord Stream 2 construction been resumed despite U.S. sanctions? Are Russians no longer afraid of them and are thumbing their nose at Joe Biden while continuing the construction in Danish waters? The interpretation depends on which agency one asks, the quality of the translation and one’s trust in sources – writes Wojciech Jakóbik, editor in chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
Construction ahead of or of Nord Stream 2?
The construction of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that has provoked controversy for political, economic and regulatory reasons, is at risk due to U.S. sanctions, which have hit, among others, the Fortuna barge responsible for the work on the Danish waters that need to be conducted for the pipe to be finished.
On Sunday the 25th of January news on the boat has emerged. Its interpretation depends on the translation and trust in the sources. Reuters has reported: „A pipe-laying vessel has started work in Danish waters ahead of the resumption of construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline”. Whereas the story in Russia’s TASS has been that „Трубоукладочная баржа „Фортуна” возобновила укладку газопровода „Северный поток – 2”, ведет укладку трубы в водах Дании.” The agency also stated that „Судно „Фортуна” в коридоре строительства в водах Дании начало работы по возобновлению строительства газопровода „Северный поток – 2”.” This means the following: “the pipe-laying vessel Fortuna has resumed the construction of the Nord Stream 2, it is laying pipes in the Danish waters” and “the Fortuna ship is in the construction area in the Danish waters and has started work on resuming the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline”. The second sentence sounds a lot less confident than the headline, which announces a fact that had purportedly already happened.
Therefore, one needs to ask what has been actually resumed – the preparatory works before the construction of the pipe, or the assembly of the Nord Stream 2 pipe itself. New information will emerge soon enough, so we will be able to answer this question. However, at this point the difference between the reporting of the generally trustworthy Reuters and Russia’s TASS, which has more often than not smuggled Kremlin’s propaganda in seemingly neutral news, is very apparent.
We do know that the Akademik Cherskiy vessel arrived on the 23rd of January to the Wismar harbor in Germany after its voyage to Kallinningrad. It is worth stressing that it remains unclear whether the ship has been properly modernized, and whether it has acquired the necessary certificates to build Nord Stream 2, as Mariusz Marszałkowski has rightly pointed out. It would take 300 days for the Fortuna to build the section in Danish waters, which would give the U.S. plenty of time to react, but it would also offer space to Angela Merkel to hold talks with Washington, which she had previously suggested. The data from the the MarineTraffic portal suggest that the Fortuna is accompanied by other ships – the Baltic Researcher, Weni and Katun are in the construction area, the Murman vessel remains in the vicinity as well. Another factor that may potentially slow down the construction and thus give the U.S. more time to clarify or extend the sanctions is the protest started by environmental organizations against the permission issued by a German regulator, which is necessary to connect the Danish section to the existing pipeline. Germany has admitted that stopping the work for the duration of that proceeding may significantly delay the project.
Time for America to react
If the construction has been indeed resumed it means Russians are serious about challenging America, so it is time for Washington to react in accordance with the legislation on the sanctions, which encompasses “any activities related to pipe-laying”. It is worth monitoring the activities of the Fortuna barge to determine what is really happening in the Danish waters. Perhaps Russians have already come to terms with the sanctions hitting their barge, but even if that is true, their western partners may not have. I have previously written that the project is becoming untouchable and problematic for companies that are trying to maintain their credibility on the market. In theory the American sanctions that are reminiscent of the restrictions imposed against Iran or Venezuela may erase those kinds of entities from the market. It remains to be seen whether they will receive the insurance and certification necessary for further work. Moreover, the reaction of regulators in Denmark and Germany is also unknown, but so far they have green-lighted all applications.
Despite that, Russians may count for a delayed reaction of Washington, as only a few days have passed since Joe Biden took over the presidential office. The State Department, which has been taken over by Anthony Blinken who confirmed he had supported the Nord Stream 2 sanctions during his confirmation hearing, will issue guidelines on the way they should be implemented. That document will determine how Americans will react to the actions of the Fortuna barge, which is on the list, and whether there will be space for talks with Germany.
Fait not accompli
When it comes to Nord Stream 2 the ball is still in the game and the media participate in the play as well. The fate of the project has not been determined yet, but Russia’s TASS is yet again trying to convince the public opinion that resistance is futile and Putin’s pipe that divides Europe must come into being. Despite this policy of fait accompli pursued by the Kremlin, that particular ‘fait’ has not been accomplished yet.