Russian energy giant Gazprom has said it plans to reduce gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to just 20 percent capacity later this week, as Moscow tightens its squeeze on Europe amid the war in Ukraine.
Gazprom said on Monday that flows would fall to 33 million cubic metres per day – half the current, already reduced level – from 04:00 GMT on Wednesday because it needed to halt the operation of a Siemens Energy gas turbine on instructions from an industry watchdog.
But Germany said it saw no technical reason for the latest reduction, which comes as Russia and Western nations exchange economic blows in response to the Russian military’s ongoing offensive in Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “is playing a perfidious game”, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck told the DPA news agency. “He is trying to weaken the great support for Ukraine and drive a wedge into our society. To do this, he stirs up uncertainty and drives up prices. We are countering this with unity and concentrated action.”
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which has a capacity of 55 billion cubic metres per year, is the single largest Russian gas link to Europe.
The European Union, which has sought to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, has repeatedly accused Moscow of resorting to energy blackmail, while the Kremlin says the shortfalls have been caused by maintenance issues and the effect of Western sanctions.
Politicians in Europe have said Russia could cut off gas flows this winter, which would thrust Germany into recession and lead to soaring prices for consumers already grappling with higher prices for food and energy.
Germany was forced last week to announce a $15bn bailout of Uniper, its biggest company importing gas from Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday called on Europe to retaliate against Russia’s “gas war” by boosting its sanctions against Moscow. “This is an open gas war that Russia is waging against a united Europe,” Zelenskyy said in response to Gazprom’s announcement.
“They don’t care what will happen to the people, how they will suffer – from hunger due to blocked ports, from winter cold and poverty … or the occupation. These are just different forms of terror,” the Ukrainian leader said in his daily video message. “That is why you have to hit back.”
Putin had foreshadowed the latest cut, warning the West this month that continued sanctions risked triggering catastrophic energy price rises for consumers around the world.
Russia had already cut flows through Nord Stream 1 to 40 percent of capacity in June, citing the delayed return of a turbine that was being serviced by Siemens Energy in Canada – an explanation that Germany rejected as spurious.
It then shut Nord Stream 1 altogether for 10 days of annual maintenance this month, restarting it last Thursday – still at 40 percent of normal levels.
The servicing of that first turbine is still a matter of dispute, as it makes its way back to Russia through a tangle of paperwork and conflicting statements.
Gazprom said on Monday that it had received documents from Siemens and Canada but “they do not remove the previously identified risks and raise additional questions”.
It said there were also still questions over EU and United Kingdom sanctions, “the resolution of which is important for the delivery of the engine to Russia and the urgent overhaul of other gas turbine engines for the Portovaya compressor station”.
Siemens Energy said the transport of the serviced turbine to Russia could start immediately, and the ball was in Gazprom’s court.
“The German authorities provided Siemens Energy with all the necessary documents for the export of the turbine to Russia at the beginning of last week. Gazprom is aware of this,” it said.
“What is missing, however, are the customs documents for import to Russia. Gazprom, as the customer, is required to provide those.”
The German company said it saw no link between the turbine issue and the gas cuts implemented or announced by Gazprom, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Russia has cut off or reduced natural gas to a dozen EU countries.
The Kremlin said earlier that Moscow was not interested in a complete stoppage of Russian gas supplies to Europe, which is straining to fill its underground storage before the peak winter season demand.
The disruption has raised the risk of gas rationing on the continent, with the EU proposing to member states last week that they cut gas use by 15 percent between August and March compared with the same period in previous years.
Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. Europe imports about 40 percent of its gas and 30 percent of its oil from Russia.