Russia has resumed construction of the politically-charged Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, laying pipes after a one-year hiatus prompted by U.S. sanctions, the pipeline operator said on Friday.
The pipeline, which Washington says compromises European energy security, has become a flashpoint in relations between Russia and the West that have sunk to post-Cold War lows. The Kremlin has called the sanctions "unfair competition".
Swiss-Dutch company Allseas suspended the laying of pipes in December 2019 following the threat of sanctions from Washington, leaving Russia to utilize its own resources to construct the 1,230 kilometers (km) pipeline, which is designed to double the 55 billion cubic meter annual gas capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline.
The two pipelines, which bypass Ukraine, will have the capacity to pump more than half of Russia's total gas exports to Europe. Rows between Moscow and Kyiv over gas supplies led to the interruption of Russian flows to Europe in previous decades.
"The pipelay vessel Fortuna will lay a 2.6 km section of the pipeline in the German Exclusive Economic Zone in water depths of less than 30 m (100ft)," Nord Stream 2 said in a statement on Friday.
It added that all construction works would be implemented in full compliance with existing permits and it would provide information about further offshore construction activities in due course.
The consortium, led by Russian gas giant Gazprom, has still to lay more than 100-km of pipeline, although more than 90% of the project has been completed.
The maritime authority in the German city of Stralsund has informed shippers there will be pipeline-laying activities from Dec. 5 through Dec. 31 in the Baltic Sea area where Nord Stream 2 will make landfall.
Gazprom's western partners in the project, which is estimated to cost 9.5 billion euros ($11.5 billion) are Germany's Uniper, BASF's Wintershall Dea, Anglo-Dutch oil major Shell, Austria's OMV and Engie.
($1 = 0.8256 euros)
(Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)