Europe tense over German gas return
On Thursday (Jul. 21), Europe is eagerly awaiting the return of Russian gas supplies, as economically dependent Germany accuses the Kremlin of using energy as a weapon.
For the past 10 days, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been closed for annual maintenance, but Germany fears that Russia would take advantage of the chance to shut down the pipeline altogether or nearly completely, causing an energy crisis in Europe.
The showdown comes at a time when Russia and the West are at their most tense since the invasion of Ukraine four years earlier.
This week, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned reporters that Moscow “is not shying away” from using grain and energy delivery as a weapon. Scholz was responding to reports that Moscow was also purposefully delaying food shipments from Ukraine.
“We must be steadfast in our efforts to defend ourselves.”
Germany’s dependence on Russian gas, coupled with Moscow’s increasingly hostile signals, was expected to increase the pressure on Europe’s largest economy.
A 1.5% drop in GDP by 2022 if supplies are cut off, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Wednesday.
Because of an unavailability of a Siemens gas turbine in Canada for repairs, Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom has reduced flows into Germany through the undersea Nord Stream 1 pipeline to about 40% of capacity.
At the earliest, the repaired turbine should arrive in Russia on Sunday at the earliest.
Gazprom has promised to fulfill all of its delivery obligations, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who reiterated this promise this week.
Gazprom “has performed, is fulfilling, and will fulfill its responsibilities in full,” Putin told reporters after discussions with Iran and Turkey’s presidents in Tehran.
The energy flow could drop below 20% of capacity next week, he said, because a second gas turbine was scheduled for maintenance at the end of the month.
Russia has begun cutting its gas deliveries to the EU since Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 and the West responded with sanctions against Moscow.
Two big German customers warned this week that Gazprom had already restricted gas delivery to Europe because of “force majeure,” adding to concerns about more disruptions.
In the event of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, a company may invoke a legal doctrine known as force majeure to release itself from contractual obligations.
Gazprom’s turbine explanation has been deemed an “excuse” by the German authorities. The German government, on the other hand, admits that it is helpless to argue against Russia’s claim of force majeure and to request compensation.
It is estimated that as of Wednesday, Germany’s gas reserves were approximately 65 percent of their capacity. Unless Nord Stream 1 is restarted before the winter weather arrives, Germany would be in serious danger, according to experts.
It was on Wednesday that the European Commission encouraged EU members to reduce their use of natural gas by 15 percent over the coming winter months, and if Russia turns off the gas lifeline, to grant it extraordinary powers to enforce the necessary demand reduction.
Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, said Russia was “blackmailing” the European Commission, which she heads.
In any case, whether it’s a partial significant cutoff of Russian gas or a total cutoff, “Europe needs to be ready” since Russia is using energy as a weapon.
Russian power in the current stalemate must be reduced, says German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who has admitted that he has begun taking shorter showers in an effort to save energy.
In a statement, he stated, “A key amount of leverage is cutting gas use. It’s up to us to do everything we can to fix it.”