MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia looked set to press on with the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline project despite mounting Western opposition after data on Wednesday showed a Russian ship had sailed for the project’s supply base in Germany.
Russia’s plans for a second Nord Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea have faced opposition from the European Union and others, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Last month’s alleged poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Kremlin critic, has added to calls from Western politicians to block the project.
The Ivan Sidorenko departed St Petersburg for the German port of Mukran, where pipes for Nord Stream 2 are stored, ship tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon showed.
It will supply pipes to allow another Russian ship, the Akademik Cherskiy, to finish laying the pipeline, the Kommersant newspaper reported, without citing its sources.
The Akademik Cherskiy is currently moored in Mukran, Refinitiv Eikon data showed.
Nord Stream 2 project leader Gazprom <GAZP.MM> did not reply to a request for comment.
European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said regarding Navalny that Russia was systematically seeking to eliminate pro-democracy opponents.
It was wrong to think that Nord Stream 2 would help to improve tense EU-Russia ties, she said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response that the project should not be linked to the Navalny case.
“This is a commercial project that is absolutely in line with the interests of both Russia and European Union countries, and primarily Germany,” he said.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is chairman of Nord Stream’s shareholders committee and German firms and others have teamed with Gazprom on the project.
Opponents to it include Poland as it will increase the EU’s reliance on Russia energy while undermining Ukraine as a transit state for Russian gas exports to Europe.
Nord Stream 2 is designed to export 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas annually, or around a third of planned Gazprom’s overseas gas supplies for this year.
It was halted in December as pipe-laying company Swiss-Dutch Allseas suspended operations due to U.S. sanctions targeting companies providing vessels laying the pipes.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Olesya Astakhova; editing by Katya Golubkova, David Evans, Jason Neely)