Moscow dealt a huge blow to Euripe by shutting off Nord Stream 1, a major gas pipeline, as an energy crisis grips the continent.
Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Germany on Wednesday, saying supplies via Nord Stream 1 had been “completely halted” for “preventive work” on a compressor unit, shortly after European gas network operator ENTSOG announced supplies had been halted.
Gazprom has also said it would suspend gas deliveries to France’s main supplier, Engie, from Thursday after it failed to pay all deliveries in July.
The latest stop comes as European countries have faced rising energy prices since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and subsequently curtailed its gas supplies to the region.
Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas, has accused Moscow of using energy as a “weapon”.
But Gazprom has said the three-day maintenance work was “necessary” and should be done after “every 1,000 hours of operation”.
Klaus Mueller, head of Germany’s federal network agency, called the decision a “technically incomprehensible” decision, warning that it was likely just a pretext for Moscow to use energy supplies as a threat.
Experience shows that Moscow “makes a political decision after every so-called meeting,” he said, adding that “we won’t know until early September whether Russia will do that again.”
With winter just around the corner, European consumers are bracing for huge energy bills. Some countries such as France have warned that rationing is a possibility. In the UK there are fears that some people will struggle to afford heating and food.
The European Union is preparing to take emergency measures to reform the electricity market to bring galloping prices under control, and energy ministers will hold extraordinary talks next week.
Asked if gas deliveries would resume after the three-day work was completed on Saturday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “there is a guarantee that, apart from technical problems caused by sanctions, nothing will hinder deliveries”.
Western capitals “have imposed sanctions on Russia, preventing normal maintenance and repairs,” he added, in what appeared to indicate a repeat of an earlier round of start-stop red tape.
Gazprom had already been carrying out scheduled maintenance work for 10 days in July. While it was restoring gas flows after the works, a few days later it drastically reduced supplies and claimed a technical problem with a turbine.
The Russian company insists a key turbine could not be sent to Russia due to sanctions against Moscow. But Germany, where the turbine was located, has said Moscow itself was blocking supplies of the part to Russia.
An official from Gascade, which manages the distribution network in Germany, was also skeptical of Gazprom’s latest actions.
“In July, regular maintenance was planned for a long time by Nord Stream 1, this time it was not planned and we do not know what is behind this operation,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
A day before the new shutdown, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany is now “in a much better position” on energy security, having met its gas storage targets much earlier than expected.
Germany’s gas storage tanks were now at nearly 85 percent of their capacity, said Mueller, who judged that “Germany is better prepared for Nord Stream’s new ‘maintenance'”.
Europe as a whole also got a march on filling its gas storage tanks. On Sunday, the storage level was already at 79.9 percent of the capacity in the EU.
At the same time, fears of throttling inventories have also prompted companies to reduce their energy consumption.
German industry consumed 21.3 percent less gas in July than the average for the month of 2018 to 2021, according to the Federal Network Agency.
Mueller has said such preventive action could “save Germany from a gas emergency this winter”.
And Europe’s largest economy was already racing to turn its back on Russian gas. At the German coastal town of Lubmin, where Nord Stream 1 is coming ashore, plans for the switch to liquefied natural gas (LNG) are already in full swing.
The LNG, delivered by ships, will arrive at the industrial port of Lubmin and be converted back to gas and pumped into Gascade’s distribution network, which has so far been used to transport Russian gas across the country.
“We expect to be able to inject gas into the distribution network on December 1, says Stephan Knabe of Deutsche ReGas, the company that manages the LNG project.
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