A Russian ship capable of laying pipe is approaching Danish waters, raising speculation it may seek to complete an $11 billion natural-gas pipeline whose construction was halted by U.S. sanctions last year.
The Admiral Chersky, which left Russia’s Far East port of Nakhodka in February -- two months after U.S. sanctions forced Western-owned ships to stop work on Nord Stream 2 -- is about to reach Danish waters after passing through the English Channel, Russia media reported.
Nord Stream 2 consists of two parallel lines each stretching 1,230 kilometers along the Baltic Sea from Russia to northern Germany. The pipeline has a capacity to export 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year.
The project is more than 90 percent complete with about 160 kilometers of pipeline remaining to be laid along the Baltic Sea near Denmark.
Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said the Admiral Chersky was one of the options to complete the project.
The Admiral Chersky has meandered over the past two months, often changing course, leading some analysts to suspect it is seeking to hide its final destination less the U.S. block is passage through straits.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this year during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he expected Nord Stream 2 to be completed by the beginning of 2021 at the latest.
The United States passed a bill in December that allowed Washington to impose sanctions on any vessel that helps Russia complete the pipeline, forcing Swiss-based Allseas to bow out and Russia to search for a substitute.
The United States opposes Nord Stream 2 because it claims the project strengthens Russia’s hold on Western Europe’s energy market and allows the Kremlin to avoid exports through Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of much needed transit revenue.
Russia claims the United States is seeking to block the project to export more U.S. liquefied natural gas to Europe.
Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas), who initiated the sanctions bill against Nord Stream 2, met in March with the head of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company to discuss additional measures to halt the project's completion.
Ukraine has lobbied the U.S. government for the Nord Stream 2 sanctions.