According to media reports, the Akademik Chersky pipe-laying vessel changed its owner. From the balance sheet of Gazprom Fleet, it transferred to the regional structure of the domestic monopolist, Samara Thermal Energy Property Fund (STIF), which is engaged in real estate management.
Obviously enough, this was done to avoid sanctions against the head office, but is this simple trick capable of tricking American lawmakers?
Such close attention has been drawn to Academician Chersky because it is the only Russian vessel capable of completing the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline abandoned by Western contractors. The Swiss company prudently chose not to mess with the United States, which imposed sanctions against pipeline builders. The Fortuna and Defender pipe-laying barges available in the Baltic Sea do not meet the requirements of the Danes in whose waters the rest of the pipeline is laid, because they are not equipped with a dynamic positioning system. To complete the Nord Stream-2 on its own, Gazprom had to drive Chersky from the Far East for several months, winding with a hare and constantly changing the point of arrival.
And now the ship in place, located in the German port, where it is being finalized. Unfortunately, this is far from all of his problems. American lawmakers immediately promised to impose new sanctions in the event that a state corporation attempts to complete the offshore section of the pipeline on its own. The main intrigue is what specific limitations it will be.
Judging by the measures taken by Gazprom, its management expects them to be “light”. In this scenario, "Academician Chersky" will be on the list of SDN, compiled by the United States. After that, the ship will be denied access to any type of foreign service, which, in general, is not fatal. Also, the Samara Fund, whose authorized capital is 123 million rubles, its assets in the United States will be arrested, and the leadership will not be able to enter this country. They will complete the construction of Nord Stream-2, and the initiators of the sanctions regime will be able to shrug, saying that they did everything possible, but the cunning Miller and Putin outplayed them again.
But there is another option, immeasurably tougher. The Americans themselves are well able to play such games, so simply transferring the ship from one legal entity to another will not work. Sanctions apply not only to the owners of the pipe-laying vessel, but also to those who sold it or leased it. Senators Ted Cruz and Djinn Shahin announced that they are preparing a new bill with US restrictive measures against Nord Stream-2. This means that the sanctions regime can be radically expanded, right up to measures directly in relation to Gazprom.
Such a scenario, directed against the Russian state corporation and its European buyers, will undoubtedly cause a sharp aggravation of relations between Berlin and Washington. Nevertheless, the time for such a "collision" from the United States was chosen rather successful. In Germany, the construction of the first LNG terminal in the city of Brunsbüttel has already begun, the launch is expected in 2022. The Germans are also thinking about the possibility of a gradual transition from gas to hydrogen, for which the ground-based infrastructure of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream-2 can be involved, which we detail told earlier. On the European market as a whole, there is an oversupply of cheap gas due to a whole range of factors: a warm winter, packed to capacity to the last year against the backdrop of transit negotiations between Gazprom and Naftogaz UGS, a general decrease in consumption due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the same time, shale oil and gas producers in the USA are experiencing serious problems. The extraction of "black gold" allowed to subsidize shale gas, which was enough for the domestic market and export. Now the cost of production is growing, and production volumes are falling. Removing any significant share of Gazprom from the European market in order to increase quotes could be a real salvation for the US energy sector, for which President Trump is behind the mountain.
In the near future it will become clear whether it turned out to be enough to change the owner of the "Academician Chersky" to outwit the Americans.