U.S. imposes sanctions on Russian vessel involved with Nord Stream 2 pipeline

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Treasury Department on Tuesday slapped sanctions on a vessel involved in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to take Russian natural gas to Europe via Germany, as Washington seeks to raise pressure on the project on President Donald Trump's last full day in office.

The department said it imposed the sanctions on the Russian pipe-laying ship "Fortuna" and its owner, KVT-RUS, under the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Nord Stream 2, designed to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream undersea gas pipeline, would bypass Ukraine, depriving it of lucrative transit fees.

The project has become a point of contention between Moscow and Washington. The United States, which is eager to sell Europe more exports of liquefied natural gas, says the project would increase Russia's economic and political leverage over Europe. Moscow and Germany say it is a commercial project.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has opposed Nord Stream 2 in the past, but it is unclear if he could compromise on the issue after taking office on Wednesday.

Germany, which wants gas as it weans itself off nuclear and coal fired power plants was disappointed in the move. "We're taking note of the announcement with regret," Germany's Economy Ministry spokesman in Berlin said on Monday, after the United States gave it early word of the sanctions.

Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom is implementing the project jointly with Western partners Uniper, Wintershall, Engie, OMV and Shell.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner and Daphne Psaledakis)