The US wants Germany and its European partners to halt construction on Nord Stream 2, a top American diplomat has said. Russian ships have increased activity in the area where the last stretch of the unfinished pipeline lies.

“Now is the time for Germany and the EU to impose a moratorium on the construction of the pipeline,” Robin Quinville, acting US ambassador in Berlin, told German newspaper the Handelsblatt on Saturday. The diplomat also called the gas link, designed to deliver cheaper Russian gas to the European market, a “political tool” used by Kremlin to “bypass Ukraine” and “divide Europe.”

Quinville took charge of the US mission in Germany after another vocal critic of the project, Richard Grenell, resigned in June this year. Grenell has always defended sanctions against the $11 billion pipeline and restrictions targeting firms involved in its construction; he once said they were “a very pro-European decision,” despite strong opposition from both Berlin and Brussels.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has already blasted the latest US verbal attack on Nord Stream 2 as act of political aggression. Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recalled that the Washington Times published an article around six years ago titled “Reagan administration warned Russian pipeline through Ukraine would weaken West,” which referred to the world’s first transcontinental gas pipeline “Urengoy – Pomary – Uzhgorod.” Built in the 1980s, the link currently forms the so-called “Ukrainian corridor” gas export route, together with other pipelines. The Russian diplomat noted that whenever and wherever a Russian pipeline goes, it always prompts the same reaction from Washington.

Meanwhile, Russian-flagged pipelayers and supply ships were reported to be sailing to the construction area in the Baltic Sea on Saturday. According to MarineTraffic data, pipelaying ship Akademik Cherskiy stopped north of Poland and Germany. The vessel Fortuna earlier left the German port of Wismar and was under “restricted maneuverability” status in the Baltic Sea, purportedly en route to Rostock Port as of Sunday.

Washington has been increasing pressure on the gas link since last year’s sanctions failed to fully stop it, as Russia dispatched its own ships to finish the final kilometers of the underwater pipe after Swiss-Dutch contractor Allseas caved in to US pressure. Shortly before the elections, the Trump administration extended those measures to include firms that provide services or funds to upgrade or install equipment on ships for laying the gas pipeline.

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