Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country should be able to complete a gas-export pipeline to Germany that has been placed under sanctions by the United States by the first quarter of 2021, slightly later than previously announced.
Putin, speaking at a joint press conference in Moscow on January 11 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Russia will "certainly" be able to complete Nord Stream 2 without foreign assistance.
The Russian leader said the project, which was expected to start in the first half of 2020, will be delayed "several months."
"I hope that by the end of this year or the first quarter of next year, the work will be completed and the gas pipeline will start," Putin said.
The United States last month sanctioned Western vessels laying the pipeline for Nord Stream 2, which consists of two parallel lines stretching 1,230 kilometers each from Russia to northern Germany, amid claims the project hurts European energy security and increases Moscow's influence over Kyiv.
Merkel said she did not agree with the U.S. approach to sanctions. She called the project legitimate and said it should be completed.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas), one of the authors of the bill sanctioning Nord Stream 2, said Washington targeted the vessels amid the belief that Russia did not have the technology to lay deep sea pipelines.
Russian officials said last month they will send a ship currently in the Far East to complete the pipeline. However, the ship will first need to be upgraded, the officials said.
Putin and Merkel also talked about salvaging the Iranian nuclear deal, bringing peace to Libya and rebuilding Syria during their meeting that lasted 3 1/2 hours.
The two leaders said the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) -- which eased sanctions against Iran in exchange for limits on its uranium-enrichment program -- should be adhered to.
The agreement was backed by the United States, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and China.
However, Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018, calling the deal signed by his predeccesor Barack Obama "terrible," and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran that have decimated its economy.
After months of complaining about the new sanctions, Tehran on January 5 said it would no longer abide by the terms of the JCPOA, putting the landmark agreement on the verge of collapse.
Merkel said the JCPOA is "certainly not perfect" but added she and Putin "agreed that we should do anything to preserve the deal."
Russia and Germany are also involved in efforts to bring about a cease-fire in Libya, which Berlin has said could become a "second Syria."
Merkel and Putin expressed support for peace talks organized by the UN to be held in Berlin in the coming weeks.
Turmoil in the oil-rich North African nation has been escalating as Russia-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar seeks to take power from the UN-recognized government.
During a trip to Istanbul on January 8, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a cease-fire in Libya starting January 12.
Turkey has sent troops to support the UN-backed government. Media have reported that Russian mercenaries from the Vagner paramilitary group are fighting alongside Haftar.
Putin said there are many mercenaries in Libya, including from Syria, but claimed he was unaware of Russian mercenaries.
"If there are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian government and do not receive money from the Russian government," Putin said.