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German foreign minister warns against halting Nord Stream 2 amid Ukraine tensions

Highlights

Would not lead to de-escalation by Moscow: Maas

Renewed calls for moratorium on pipeline construction

Moscow eyes first gas via Nord Stream by end-summer

German foreign minister Heiko Maas has rejected calls for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to be halted amid increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine, warning that such action could lead to a further escalation.

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Speaking on German television late April 14, Maas said: "I am skeptical that halting the Nord Stream 2 project would lead to a de-escalation by Moscow -- in fact it could have the opposite effect."

Germany has continued to back the controversial 55 Bcm/year Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is now 95% complete, despite opposition from the US and countries in eastern Europe.

"The position of the German government has always been clear," Maas said.

His comments come after German defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on April 14 said a moratorium on the completion of the pipeline could be considered in light of recent Russian behavior.

Tensions have been growing in recent days over the potential for military escalation between Russia and Ukraine after Moscow began amassing troops near the border with Ukraine.

Nord Stream 2 has been repeatedly touted by opponents of the project -- who say it gives Russia too much influence over European energy and concentrates too much supply on one source and one route -- as a potential political tool to use to pressure Moscow.

Calls for the project to be halted intensified last August following the poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Summer completion

Russia, meanwhile, remains confident that Nord Stream 2 will be completed in time to begin flowing gas by the end of this summer.

"Everything leads to the fact that we should complete all works no later than summer," Pavel Zavalny, head of the State Duma's energy committee, said April 15 at a meeting with German parliamentarians.

Zavalny said he hoped both lines would be laid "no later than June."

"We very much hope that by the end of the summer all the work on the construction and adjustment of the gas supply will be completed, and that by the end of the summer, there is a hope that Germany can receive the first gas via this pipeline," he said.

As of March 31, a total of 2,339 km out of the total 2,460 km of the two-string pipeline had been laid, the Nord Stream 2 development company told S&P Global Platts on April 14.

Approximately 121 km remain to be laid -- 93 km in Danish waters and 28 km in German waters, it said.

Two Russian pipelaying vessels are now operating in Danish waters to lay Nord Stream 2.

The Adakemik Cherskiy -- which has dynamic positioning capabilities allowing for accelerated pipelaying -- has joined the Fortuna pipelayer carrying out work south of the Danish island of Bornholm in the country's EEZ.

However, the Akademik Cherskiy has yet to begin actual pipelaying. "The Akademik Cherskiy is implementing preparatory works prior to commencing pipelay," Nord Stream 2 said April 14.

The Fortuna, which uses anchors in pipelaying meaning a slower rate of work, resumed operations in Danish waters on Feb. 6.

Being able to use two pipelaying vessels will speed up work on completing the project.

Nord Stream 2 would allow for an additional 55 Bcm/year of Russian gas to reach Germany on top of the first 55 Bcm/year Nord Stream pipeline.

The fact Nord Stream 2 will alter the European gas landscape significantly once operational has led to major interest in the timetable for pipelaying work.

Without Nord Stream 2, Russia's Gazprom may have to rely on the transit of gas via Ukraine in larger volumes than it intended when it signed a five-year deal at the end of 2019.