The operator of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 has begun filling the controversial Baltic Sea pipeline to Germany with gas.
Nord Stream 2 AG, a Switzerland-based company owned by a subsidiary of Russian gas giant Gazprom, said in a statement on October 4 that the first string of the pipeline would be gradually filled to build inventory and pressure.
The latest step bringing the pipeline closer to operation comes as Europe faces dwindling natural gas reserves and soaring energy prices, threatening the continent’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the winter heating season.
Nord Stream 2 AG did not provide a date for the pipeline to enter into service, saying only that it would publish more information about "further technical steps in due time.”
German media reported that gas could start flowing as soon as this month, but regulators are reviewing the final paperwork before giving it approval to start operation.
Regulators have until January to make a decision on whether Nord Stream 2 is an independent transport network in line with EU directives, public broadcaster MDR reported.
The Nord Stream 2 project is designed to carry Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassing land routes through Ukraine and depriving Kyiv of as much as $2 billion a year in transit fees.
When fully operational, the pipeline has capacity to carry 55 billion cubic meters of gas to European markets annually, or enough to supply 26 million households.
Ukraine has been lobbying to derail the project, warning Europe it could be used by Moscow to exert political and economic pressure.
The United States opposes Nord Stream 2, but President Joe Biden in May agreed to waive congressionally mandated sanctions on the pipeline to smooth out relations with Germany, which has backed the construction of the pipeline. Europe's largest economy receives 40 percent of its gas from Russia.
The U.S.-German agreement opened the door to the completion of the $11 billion pipeline last month.
"We continue to oppose this pipeline," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on October 4. "We continue to believe it is a geopolitical project of the Russian Federation and we will continue to apply the law consistent with our periodic reviews which, of course, remain ongoing."
Under the May agreement with Germany, the Biden administration agreed to waive the mandatory sanctions in exchange for commitments from Berlin to invest in Ukraine’s energy industry and push the Kremlin to continue to export some gas through the country.
The agreement also stipulates that Russia be sanctioned should Nord Stream 2 be used to apply pressure.