After ten days of maintenance, Russia on Thursday resumed vital gas shipments to Europe via Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline. However, there was still doubt whether the Kremlin would still start an energy crisis on the continent this winter.
Germany, which depends heavily on Russian gas, had feared that Moscow would close the pipeline after the planned work and accused Moscow of using energy as a “weapon.”
The confrontation took place amid the worst tensions in several years due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Germany thinks Russia is restricting supply as payback for Western sanctions related to the war.
According to Klaus Mueller, chairman of the Federal Network Agency, Germany’s energy regulator, by late morning, gas flows were expected to restore to 40% of the pipeline’s capacity, which is the same reduced level as before the maintenance work.
But he added, “There is no reason to sound all-clear given the missing 60% (of supplies) and political uncertainty.
Pressure on the leading economy in Europe has increased due to Germany’s continued reliance on Russian gas and worrisome signals from Moscow.
Factory closures and forced temperature reductions in homes might result from a complete stoppage of imports or a severe reduction in the flow from east to west.
Experts warned that even the return of 40% of supply would not be enough to prevent energy shortages in Europe this winter.
On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that a supply disruption might cause Germany’s GDP to fall by 1.5% this year.
In recent weeks, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea has seen Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom reduce supplies to Germany to about 40% of capacity, blaming the absence of a Siemens gas turbine that was undergoing maintenance in Canada.
According to reports, the turbine is on its way to Russia and should arrive no later than Sunday. The German government rejected Gazprom’s justification as an “excuse,” pointing out that there were other turbine options.
On Thursday, Moscow changed its line of reasoning once more, this time blaming Western sanctions for the difficulties in delivering gas to Europe.
According to Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, “Any technological issues related to this are caused by the limits that European countries implemented themselves.”
This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed that Gazprom would fulfill all of its delivery commitments.
Following conversations with Iran and Turkey presidents, Putin assured Tehran reporters that “Gazprom has performed, is completing, and will fulfill its duties in full.”
However, he cautioned that because another gas turbine was scheduled for maintenance at the end of this month, energy flows could drop to 20% of capacity starting the next week.
Official estimates indicate that German gas reserves were at roughly 65 percent. Since there is less supply, EU nations cannot restock before winter.
The European Commission urged EU nations on Wednesday to decrease their demand for natural gas by 15% during the upcoming winter months and to provide it exceptional authority to compel necessary demand reductions if Russia turns off the gas lifeline.
The former German defense minister and Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told reporters, “Russia is blackmailing us.”
“Russia is using energy as a weapon; therefore, in any case, whether it’s a partial or complete cutoff of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready.”
The Kremlin’s Peskov declared on Thursday that the allegations of blackmail were “absolutely” false.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck emphasized that industry and consumers would have to do their lot to limit Russia’s power in the current conflict. Habeck has admitted that he takes shorter showers to save energy.
Reducing gas use is “a decisive element of leverage,” he said. “We need to work on that as much as possible.”