Russia has denied halting gas flows in retaliation for Western sanctions on Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine.
Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom has again suspended gas deliveries on the arterial Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, citing maintenance requirements.
The suspension is the latest in a series of halts to gas supplies that have contributed to an ongoing energy crisis in Europe in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24.
Gazprom said on Wednesday that supplies via Nord Stream 1 were “completely stopped” for “preventive work” at a compressor unit. The announcement came shortly after European gas network operator ENTSOG announced that deliveries had ceased.
Gazprom has repeatedly maintained the stoppages in supply are necessary for routine maintenance but have been exacerbated by equipment delivery complications created by Western sanctions on Russia.
Germany has accused Moscow of using its energy resources as a weapon.
Germany’s Federal Network Agency chief Klaus Mueller called the latest cessation “technically incomprehensible”, adding that experience shows that Moscow “makes a political decision after every so-called maintenance”.
“We’ll only know at the beginning of September if Russia does that again,” said Mueller, apparently referring to suspensions and reductions of flows in June and July that Russia blamed on maintenance.
Expected to worsen
Europe’s ongoing energy crunch has seen a 400 percent surge in wholesale gas prices since last August.
The shortages have squeezed consumers and businesses alike, who are reeling from sky-high inflation and the high cost of living. It has forced governments to spend billions to ease the burden.
The situation is expected to worsen as European countries enter the cold winter months, with many homes using natural gas for heating. Some countries, including France, have said fuel rationing is possible.
Since launching its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has also stopped supplying Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland with gas while reducing flows via other pipelines.
On Tuesday, Gazprom said it would suspend gas deliveries to its French contractor over a payments dispute. France’s energy minister said that was an excuse, but said the country had already been anticipating the loss of supply.
The European Union is preparing to take emergency action to reform the electricity market in order to bring rising prices under control, with energy ministers scheduled to hold extraordinary talks next week.
‘Nothing interferes with supplies’
Germany, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas, is faring better than expected, with Mueller reporting the country’s gas storage was nearly 85 percent filled.
Europe as a whole is also making progress in filling its gas storage tanks. On Sunday, storage levels were already at 79.9 percent of capacity in the EU.
German economy minister Robert Habeck, who is leading efforts to replace Russian gas imports by mid-2024, says the country currently does not have the needed stores to make it through the winter.
Asked if Gazprom’s supplies would resume after the three-day works were completed on Saturday, Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “there is a guarantee that, apart from technical problems caused by sanctions, nothing interferes with supplies”.
Western capitals “have imposed sanctions against Russia, which do not allow for normal maintenance, repair work”, he said, appearing to refer to an incident in July when, following 10 days of scheduled maintenance, Nord Stream 1 flows dwindled.
Gazprom said the issue was the result of a key turbine being blocked from delivery to Russia because of sanctions.
Germany, from where the turbine was being sent, said Moscow was the one blocking that delivery.