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U.S. Warns of Sanctions on European Firms and Insurers Over Russia’s Nord Stream

2021-01-13 13:36:41

The U.S. State Department told European companies this month that it suspects are helping to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in Russia that they are at risk for sanctions as the outgoing Trump administration has launched a final round of punitive action against it project, two sources said Tuesday. .

"We are trying to educate companies about the risk and urge them to withdraw before it is too late," said a US government source on condition of anonymity.

The US source said the State Department is expected to release a report Thursday or Friday on companies it believes are helping the Russia-Germany pipeline. Companies that could be in the report include companies that provide insurance, help lay the submarine pipeline or verify the project's construction equipment, the source said.

The companies may be at risk of US sanctions under existing law if they fail to retire.

Zurich Insurance Group could be mentioned in the report, the source said. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Zurich has since issued a statement, "Zurich has a comprehensive compliance framework and is committed to fully complying with all applicable sanctions regulations. We do not comment on specific customer relationships.")

Nord Stream 2 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The $ 11 billion pipeline, one of Russia's most important projects in Europe, has sparked tensions between Washington and Moscow.

The Trump administration opposes Nord Stream 2, which would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees, saying it would increase Russia's economic and political influence over Europe. The government has also boosted exports of US liquefied natural gas to Europe, a fuel that competes with pipeline gas from Russia.

The Kremlin says Nord Stream 2, led by state energy company Gazprom, is a commercial project.

Germany, the largest economy in Europe, also says the pipeline is just commercial. It needs gas as it is shutting down coal and nuclear power plants due to environmental and safety concerns.

US president-elect Joe Biden opposed the project when he was vice president under Barack Obama. It is uncertain whether he would be willing to compromise on the project after January 20, when he takes over.

Gazprom halted construction of Nord Stream 2 for a year following US sanctions in December 2019. But work has resumed as Gazprom hopes to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea to double the existing line's capacity. The project is 90% complete with only a 100 km stretch in deep waters off Denmark to complete.

Gazprom & # 39; s Western partners in the project are German Uniper, BASF & # 39; s Wintershall Dea, Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell, Austrian OMV and Engie.

A US-based industry source who has seen State Department communications said European companies, including German ones, have been receiving inquiries from the Trump administration in recent months, going back to October, about their activities related to Nord Stream 2.

The State Department asked the companies in October if they were involved in Nord Stream 2 and if work was continuing after July 15, and the value of any services or support.

On that date, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned investors in Russia's Nord Stream 2 and Turkstream pipelines that they could face sanctions under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017.

On Jan. 1, the State Department reached out again with an urgent request, the industry source said, requesting that they issue a call that weekend with the Bureau of Energy Resources to get the details of the companies' winding-down activities. discuss.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Report by Daphne Psaledakis and Timothy Gardner; writing by Timothy Gardner; edited by Kim Coghill)

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