Europe is eagerly awaiting the return of Russian gas supplies on Thursday following scheduled work on a crucial gas pipeline, as heavily dependent Germany accuses the Kremlin of using the energy as a “weapon”.
The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is due to reopen at 04:00 GMT after 10 days of annual repairs, but Germany fears Russia is seizing the opportunity to simply keep the taps fully or nearly closed, plunging the continent into an energy crisis.
The confrontation comes amid the worst tensions between Russia and the West in years over the invasion of Ukraine.
“Moscow does not hesitate to use grain and energy deliveries as a weapon,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters this week, referring to allegations that Moscow was also deliberately blocking food exports from Ukraine.
“We must be determined to protect ourselves.”
However, Germany’s continued dependence on Russian gas, coupled with clear negative signals from Moscow, is expected to mount pressure on Europe’s largest economy.
The IMF warned on Wednesday that a supply cut could reduce 2022 GDP by 1.5%.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has cut flows to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to around 40% capacity in recent weeks, blaming the lack of a Siemens gas turbine under repair in Canada.
The repaired turbine is said to be on its way to Russia and is expected to arrive on Sunday at the earliest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted this week that Gazprom would meet all of its delivery obligations.
“Gazprom has fulfilled, is fulfilling and will fully fulfill its obligations,” Putin told reporters in Tehran after talks with the Iranian and Turkish leaders.
However, he warned that with another gas turbine due to be sent out for maintenance at the end of this month, power flows could drop to 20% of capacity from next week.
Since Putin sent troops to Ukraine on Feb. 24 and the West responded with sanctions against Moscow, Russia has begun to cut gas supplies to prevent EU countries from replenishing their reserves.
Gazprom has previously blamed cuts in gas deliveries to Europe on “force majeure”, two major German customers said this week, adding to fears of further disruption.
Force majeure is a legal measure allowing companies to free themselves from their contractual obligations in the face of circumstances beyond their control.
The German government dismissed the Gazprom turbine explanation as an “apology”. However, Berlin acknowledges that it would be largely powerless to challenge the force majeure claim and expects damages from Russia.
On Wednesday, German gas reserves were around 65% according to official estimates. Experts say this would leave Germany severely exposed if supplies via Nord Stream 1 do not resume before cold weather returns.
The European Commission on Wednesday urged EU countries to reduce their demand for natural gas by 15% over the coming winter months and give it special powers to impose the necessary demand cuts if Russia cuts the buoy. gas rescue.
“Russia is blackmailing us,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, told reporters.
“Russia uses energy as a weapon and therefore, in any event, whether it is a major partial Russian gas cut or a total cut… Europe must be ready. “
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who said he had started taking shorter showers to save energy, stressed that industry – but also consumers – should do their part to reduce the power of Russia in the current stalemate.
“A decisive leverage effect is the reduction of gas consumption,” he said in a statement. “We have to do everything in our power to work on that.”