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US senators to announce sanctions bill on Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Workers are seen at a construction site of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia, June 5, 2019. (Reuters photo)

Five US senators are introducing a bill this week which aims to expand sanctions on a Russian gas pipeline project known as Nord Stream 2.

The project, which would double the capacity of an existing line sending Russian gas to Germany, is opposed by many in Washington who claim it would tighten Moscow’s political and economic grip on Europe.

The 12-billion-dollar project envisages the construction and operation of two gas pipeline branches with a total throughput capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Nord Stream 2, which would send gas under the Baltic Sea, could come on stream by the end of 2020 or early next year.

The new US bill - the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act, follows legislation President Donald Trump singed late last year, which after it became law, Swiss-Dutch company Allseas immediately stopped undersea work on the pipeline.

Now, two pipe-laying vessels owned by Russia will be probably used to finish the remaining 100 miles (160 km) of the project that state gas company Gazprom (GAZP.MM) leads.

The legislation put forward by Senators Ted Cruz, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, would target parties involved in pipe-laying activities, not just pipe laying, and on parties offering underwriting services, insurance or reinsurance for the vessels, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

It also imposes sanctions on companies providing services or facilities for the vessels, including welding equipment, retrofitting or tethering of the ships.

For the bill to become law, it needs to be passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by Trump.

“Congress must once again take decisive action and stand in this pipeline’s path,” Shaheen said.

The bill “makes clear those involved with vessels installing the pipeline will face crippling and immediate sanctions,” Cruz said.

On May 28, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia viewed the US sanctions contradictory to international law.

Meanwhile, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier last week condemned the US move amid the coronavirus crisis that is exerting heavy pressure on countries around the world.

“At a time that the coronavirus pandemic puts massive pressure on countries across the globe, it is not right (for the US) to keep escalating this sanctions threat, which is extraterritorial and thus in conflict with international law,” Altmaier was quoted as saying in a German newspaper.

The Trump administration has hailed exports of US liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as “freedom gas” that can be an alternative to Russian gas. However, the amount of gas flowing on pipelines to US LNG export plants has plummeted to a 13-month low, a signal of weak global demand due to the coronavirus.

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