Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that laying the pipes for the first of two lines of the prospective Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany has now been “successfully completed.”
Addressing an economic forum in St. Petersburg on June 4, Putin also said that “work on the second line is continuing.”
While the underwater section still needs to be linked to the section on German territory, Russian energy giant Gazprom “is ready to start filing Nord Stream 2 with gas,” he added.
Gazprom shares went up 0.6 percent after Putin’s comments, reaching 273.80 rubles ($3.74) — their highest level since mid-2008.
The United States, which has strongly opposed construction of the new Russian pipeline, last month announced new sanctions against Russian companies and ships involved in the project.
But the administration of President Joe Biden decided to waive sanctions against the company overseeing the project and its CEO.
In Washington, the move was met with criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, while the Kremlin hailed it as a “positive signal” ahead of a June 16 summit between Biden and Putin.
The Baltic Sea pipeline was at the center of a political tussle between Berlin and Washington during the previous administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Since coming into office in January, Biden has sought to heal relations with Europe after they were bruised under his predecessor.
U.S. officials have warned the pipeline will make Europe more dependent on Russian energy supplies and bypass Ukraine, which relies on gas transit fees.
The German government has refused to halt the project, arguing that it is a commercial venture and sovereign issue.
Putin told the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that Russia will continue pumping 40 billion cubic meters of gas via Ukraine a year in line with the existing five-year contract.
Kyiv is locked in a confrontation with Moscow over Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Black Sea Crimean Peninsula and the Kremlin’s support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Describing the U.S. use of the dollar as a political weapon, Putin also said that European states should pay for Russian gas in euros, a day after Moscow said it would remove dollar assets from its National Wealth Fund while increasing the share of the euro, Chinese yuan, and gold.
“The euro is completely acceptable for us in terms of gas payments. This can be done, of course, and probably should be done,” he said.
Russia has long moved to reduce the dollar’s share in its hard-currency reserves as it has faced waves of U.S. sanctions amid heightened tensions with the West over issues including the conflict in Ukraine, cyberattacks allegedly by Russian hackers, and Russia’s treatment of jailed opposition activist Aleksei Navalny.
In an interview with state-run Channel One television on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg forum, Putin said he expected “no breakthrough” from his meeting with Biden, but expressed hope that the talks will be held in a “positive atmosphere.”
“But the very fact of our meeting, that we will speak about possibilities for restoring bilateral relations, about matters of mutual interest, and, by the way, there are a lot of them, is quite good as such,” he added.
Late last month, Biden said he would press his Russian counterpart to respect human rights when the two leaders meet.
The U.S. president in March said he believed Putin was a “killer,” which prompted a diplomatic row that led to Moscow recalling its ambassador to Washington for consultations.