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US waives sanctions on Nord Stream 2 operator

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Tugboats get into position on the Russian pipe-laying vessel "Fortuna" in the port of Wismar, Germany, ahead of work on Nord Stream 2
Tugboats get into position on the Russian pipe-laying vessel "Fortuna" in the port of Wismar, Germany, ahead of work on Nord Stream 2   -   Copyright  Jens Buettner/DPA via AP
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German chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germany will discuss “necessary common ground” with the United States on relations with Russia after the US waived sanctions on the company overseeing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

On Wednesday the Biden administration hit Russian companies and ships with fresh sanctions for their work on the project.

But Biden opted not to sanction the Swiss-registered Russian firm Nord Stream 2 AG, which is tasked with managing the project.

Faced with criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move was “in line with our commitment to strengthen our Transatlantic relationships as a matter of national security”.

Washington has been vehemently opposed to the pipeline, which is now 95 per cent complete, for years on the basis that it threatens energy security in Europe. Blinken previously told Euronews it was US a "bad idea" and undermined "basic EU principles".

On Thursday, Angela Merkel told German broadcaster WDR in Berlin: “President Biden has now taken a step toward us in connection with the Nord Stream 2 conflict... We will now talk further about what the necessary common ground is in the relationship with Russia.”

She added that she and Biden will soon see each other at Group of Seven and NATO meetings.

Green campaigners' dismay at German pipeline ruling

The US decision came days after Germany's Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) ruled that another two-kilometre stretch of the pipeline can be laid in May.

Environmental groups had complained that this would threaten bird species in the area and had filed several lawsuits against the controversial project.

Groups including the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) took the case to court in January, citing resting birds in the German Baltic Sea, and halted construction.

But the BSH in Hamburg has granted the work permit for "safe continuation", with the new stretch now due to be laid after May on the seabed in the German exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Credit: Euronews
The route of Nord Stream 2Credit: Euronews

In a statement, the agency said the pipeline would have no significant impact on nature conservation once work resumed.

"Due to the end of the resting period... and the peripheral location of this short section, no significant adverse effects on protected bird species and the conservation objectives of the Pomeranian Bay bird sanctuary are expected," said BSH President Dr Karin Kammann-Klippstein.

Campaigners plan to appeal the decision. Sascha Müller-Kraenner, Federal Executive Director of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, said the decision went against "all common sense in climate policy".

Nord Stream 2 is currently still being built in Danish waters, with work there nearing completion.

The controversial natural gas pipeline from Russia through the Baltic Sea to Germany has been one of the main points of contention in German-American relations for years.

U.S. resignation as Trump-era sanctions waived

The sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG have been in place since the previous U.S. administration, with the State Department sending a list of sanctioned entities to Congress every 90 days.

Sanctions have also been waived on the company's CEO, Matthias Warnig. Despite the move, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “We’ve continued to convey that we believe it’s a bad idea, a bad plan.

"Our view is that it’s a Russian geopolitical project that threatens European energy security and that of Ukraine and the Eastern flank NATO allies and partners."

But she added: “In what way were we be going to be able to stop a project in another country that’s been built 95 per cent?”

Following the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny last year, some MEPs also called for an immediate halt to the infrastructure project.