Thursday, April 22, 2021

Nord Stream 2: How Russia is bypassing the sactions with help of European countries

 An interesting investigation by german newspaper WELT:

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken never tires of repeating what top Washington officials have been saying for more than a decade. At the meeting with Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Brussels two weeks ago, Blinken emphasized that the USA rejected the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. In an interview with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Blinken said that US President Joe Biden considers Nord Stream 2 to be a “bad idea”, bad for Europe and the USA. The American Secretary of State is expected to hold new talks in Brussels on Tuesday.

In a recent interview with the television broadcaster CNN, Blinken stated that there was no ambiguity in the American position: close German-American relations on the one hand, and a fundamental rejection of Nord Stream 2 on the other. The spokesman for the US Embassy in Berlin, Joseph Giordono-Scholz, also made it unequivocally: The White House "is determined to use all available levers to prevent the completion of Nord Stream 2".

It is more than clear: the USA wants to do all it can to prevent the eleven billion dollar project, which many critics between Kiev and Brussels describe as Russia's geopolitical project. The pipeline between Russia and Germany running on the bottom of the Baltic Sea is 95 percent complete and in the long term would make gas transit via Ukraine superfluous.

A weakening of Kiev has been in Moscow's interest since 2004 at the latest, when the country committed itself to the west course with the “Orange Revolution”. This is currently also proven by the Russian deployment on the Ukrainian border. In Berlin, however, the criticism has so far been restrained. From a German perspective, Russia's saber-rattling clearly has no impact on the future of Nord Stream 2.

At first glance, it would not take more than one last effort to complete the controversial project - if it weren't for the American sanctions that forced the Swiss service provider Allseas and its high-tech lay vessels to withdraw from the project. According to the US media, the Biden government is preparing a new round of sanctions. The content remains unknown so far. The target of these new sanctions could be Nord Stream 2 AG, the official builder of the pipeline, and CEO Matthias Warnig.

But at least the previous extraterritorial sanctions of the Americans, which triggered criticism in Germany, not least from Chancellor Angela Merkel, could be more holey than initially assumed. Despite intensive efforts by Nord Stream – 2 critics such as Poland, construction is progressing. Warsaw recently canceled the registration of two supply vessels registered in Gdansk and sailing under the Polish flag. These are said to have been involved in the construction of the pipeline.

But the special ship "Akademik Tscherski", which Russia intends to use for the completion of the pipeline, appears to be invulnerable to attacks by the opponents of Nord Stream 2. For almost a year, after his adventurous relocation of Russia's offshore projects on the Pacific to the Baltic Sea - at that time, Akademik Tscherski was sometimes accompanied by warships of the Russian Navy, it frequently changed course and destination, apparently to confuse the Americans - it has been commuting Ship between German ports and the Russian Baltic exclave Kaliningrad. In December, the German waterways and shipping administration said that the laying vessel was ready for use.

It was apparently retrofitted with European technology - despite sanctions, as the Russian-language service of Deutsche Welle reported with reference to Russian and German customs data from the ImportGenius database. According to this, Russian companies that have not appeared so far have purchased systems for pipeline construction from suppliers for a total of ten million dollars from the Netherlands and Italy, which the owner of the laying ship Akademik Tschersk had re-exported to Germany.

According to the research, suppliers such as Nuova Patavium srl from the northern Italian region of Veneto have split orders into individual deliveries that should have triggered US sanctions under the “Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act”. These remained below the sum of one million dollars - this was how it was possible to avoid attracting the attention of US authorities.

Thanks to such tricks, the construction of Nord Stream 2 continues undisturbed and fits into a long series of manipulations that are intended to lead US authorities astray. On paper, for example, Akademik Tscherski no longer belongs to the marine division of Gazprom since last year, but to an obscure infrastructure management fund from the Russian region of Samara, which previously belonged indirectly to the Russian energy company. Today it can no longer be proven that the fund is controlled by Gazprom, its real owners are unknown.

As reported by Russian media, the Fortuna lay vessel has completed half of the previously outstanding section of the pipeline in Danish waters. The section should be ready by the end of May, according to a message from the pipeline builder to Denmark's Energy Agency - partly with the help of Akademik Tscherski. The ship arrived at the construction site on Monday, as reported by Russian media.

This is good news for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's SPD Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig and her controversial “Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection MV”. The organization, largely financed by Gazprom, which critics such as the FDP member of the Bundestag Alexander Graf Lambsdorff call "Fake Foundation", is supposed to promote climate and environmental protection projects in science and research, but also finance projects at daycare centers and schools. At the same time, the “completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline” is one of the goals of the foundation. That is a "temporary secondary purpose", says Erwin Sellering, head of the foundation and former Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.

A secondary purpose with far-reaching geopolitical consequences, as Sellering openly said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the foundation is supposed to be a kind of insurance policy for Gazprom. If the talks between the German government, the EU Commission and Joe Biden's government about the future of the pipeline should fail, they are “ready to help”. The Russian state energy exporter Gazprom is at least not making its tricks public - it does not seem to be a problem for a German state government to openly offer help to circumvent sanctions.

But this help could be unnecessary. Akademik Tscherski should start work shortly, then the construction work has reached the home straight: the last 120 kilometers in Danish waters, the most complex construction section of Nord Stream 2. The completion of the pipeline will then take a matter of months. According to Gazprom board member Viktor Zubkov, the pipeline will be completed this year: “It's a shame about the lost time, but that's how it happened,” commented Zubkov at a press conference.

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