Pipes for the Nord Stream 2 project being stored in Germany in September. The pipeline will double Moscow’s capacity to ship gas directly from Russia to Germany but is opposed by Poland and other central European states © REUTERS

Poland’s competition watchdog has fined Russia’s state-controlled gas giant Gazprom 29bn zlotys (€6.5bn) for going ahead with the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline without securing its approval.

The pipeline will double Moscow’s capacity to ship gas directly from Russia to Germany but is fiercely opposed by Poland and other central European states that argue it will increase the EU’s energy dependence on Russia.

Wednesday’s fine is the largest ever by Poland’s competition regulator UOKiK and comes just weeks after the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny gave renewed impetus to a debate in Germany about the merits of the controversial €9.5bn project.

As well as fining Gazprom, UOKiK imposed penalties totalling 234m zlotys on the five western companies — Engie, Uniper, OMV, Shell and Wintershall — that are co-financing the project. 

“As far as energy security is concerned, the undertaking splits Europe into two parts,” said Tomasz Chrostny, head of UOKiK. “It is astounding that western corporations fail to understand that, and participate in an undertaking that not only disturbs competition on the market but also poses a threat to Europe’s energy security.”

Mr Chrostny ordered the companies to terminate financing contracts linked to the project within 30 days, to “reinstate the state of competition from prior to the concentration”.

Gazprom said UOKiK’s decision was based on incorrect information and that it would appeal, a move that would delay any legal enforcement of the decision.

“Gazprom fundamentally disagrees with the position of the Polish
anti-monopoly authority,” the company said in a statement. “The project
was implemented not by a joint venture, but by a subsidiary of Gazprom
with the attraction of debt financing . . . [the company] did not violate
the anti-monopoly legislation of the Republic of Poland.”

The Kremlin added on Wednesday that it had no doubt Gazprom would take the necessary legal countermeasures.

The US has also been a vociferous opponent of the project. Officials said in July that Washington would toughen its sanctions regime for companies helping Russia complete the pipeline.

Shares in Gazprom, which is 50.2 per cent controlled by the Kremlin, were down 1.9 per cent in early-afternoon trading in Moscow.

However, analysts said this was less to do with the potential financial impact of the fine than general opposition to Nord Stream 2.

“We are not lawyers but the fine seems too large to be realistic,” said Ron Smith, executive director at BCS Global Markets in Moscow. “To
us it seems engineered more to generate headlines than in any
expectation of Gazprom ever actually paying such a fine.”

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Mr Smith added that even if the fine was pursued to the judicial end by both sides, “we wouldn’t expect a final decision for many years”.

OMV said it would analyse the decision but was “of the clear opinion that it has complied with all applicable laws”. Shell said it strongly disagreed with the decision and was reviewing its next steps.

Wintershall said that UOKiK had taken an "unconventional" approach, and that it reserved the right to take legal steps in response.

Engie and Uniper did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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