Russian Gas | Europe in the unknown with the temporary shutdown of Nord Stream

(Berlin) On Monday, Germany and with it Europe entered a period of great uncertainty about the continuation of their imports of Russian gas, which have already been sharply reduced in recent weeks, and which could soon dry up completely.

Updated at 6:30am

Florian CAZERES
Media Agency France

Russian giant Gazprom this morning began maintenance work on the two Nord Stream 1 gas pipelines that carry a large volume of its gas, which is still being shipped to Germany and several other countries in Western Europe.

“Nord Stream will be stopped […] This means that the gas is no longer circulating,” the Federal Ministry of Economics confirmed to AFP on Monday.

This long-announced 10-day standstill of the two pipes should theoretically only be a technicality. But with the war in Ukraine and the showdown between Moscow and the West over energy, no one can bet on the future.

As a warning, Gazprom also reduced its gas supplies to Italy and Austria by a third and 70 percent respectively on Monday, according to energy groups OMV and ENI. The two countries are partly supplied by the TAG gas pipeline, which runs through Ukraine, but also by the Nord Stream gas pipeline.

“There are many scenarios under which we could fall into an emergency situation,” warned Federal Network Agency President Klaus Müller on ZDF on Monday.

“Prepare for the worst”

“Germany in full throttle shock! exclaimed on Monday in one of Germany’s most widely read daily newspapers, Bild.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation, everything is possible,” admitted German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck on public broadcaster at the weekend.

“It is possible that the gas will flow again, even in larger quantities than before. It’s possible that nothing more is coming and as always we have to prepare for the worst,” he added.

Moscow has already cut gas supplies from Nord Stream by 60% in recent weeks, citing a technical problem, a decision Berlin has denounced as “political”.

Berlin therefore worked hard on Saturday to convince Canada to return a turbine destined for Nord Stream 1 that was being serviced in the country. And that despite protests from Ukraine.

Germany did not want to give Moscow an additional argument to stop its gas supplies. The turbine returned by the manufacturer Siemens will then be handed over to Russia, Berlin announced on Monday.

Berlin also argues that it would be difficult for Gazprom to halt its supplies via Nord Stream for technical reasons, as the gas produced in the Siberian field is “under pressure” and cannot be stored forever. “It’s not like a faucet,” Habeck said.

fear of rationing

Since the war began, Germany has made efforts to reduce its dependency, but it is still significant: 35% of its gas imports come from Russia, compared to 55% before the war. And more than 50% of homes are always heated with gas.

A permanent shutdown of Nord Stream 1 would not only disadvantage Europe’s largest economy: Normally, the gas arriving in Germany continues to be transported throughout Europe.

In France, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on Sunday called for “moving into battle quickly” to deal with the possibility of a full cut in supplies, “the most likely option”.

A longer halt to deliveries would therefore exacerbate the energy crisis Europe is already grappling with, with rising prices and fears of shortages this winter.

In Germany, the authorities are already considering rationing plans and demanding savings.

“We now have to do everything we can to save gas, optimize heating, discuss with the family, prepare sectors – we are not powerless,” Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Network Agency, hammered on Monday.

The House of Representatives decided on a symbolic savings plan on Thursday: more heating above 20 degrees in winter and more hot water in individual offices.

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