Germany accuses Russia of ‘power play’ as gas pipeline supply drops by half

State-run Gazprom reduces flow through Nord Stream 1 to around 20% of its capacity

Germany has accused Moscow of engaging in “power play” over energy exports, as Russian state-run Gazprom further throttled gas supplies into Europe.

As announced two days earlier, the energy giant on Wednesday reduced the gas flow through Nord Stream 1 to 33m cubic metres a day – about 20% of the pipeline’s total capacity and half the amount it has been delivering since resuming service last week after 10 days of maintenance work.

According to network data from the gas transfer station in Lubmin, north-east Germany, only about 17m kilowatt hours of gas arrived between 8am and 9am, compared with more than 27m kWh between 6am and 7am.

Meanwhile, the Italian energy major Eni said it had been told by Gazprom it would only receive “approximately 27m cubic metres” of natural gas on Wednesday, down from around 34m cubic metres in recent days.

The Russian gas firm said gas flow was down because one of the last two operating turbines had to be halted due to a “technical condition of the engine” – an argument the German government in strong terms dismissed as a made-up pretext.

“The turbine is there, it has been serviced,” said the government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann in Berlin, referencing a turbine Russia had previously cited as a reason for reduced deliveries.

“At this point in time supply contracts aren’t being honoured,” she added. “What we are seeing is indeed power play, and we won’t allow ourselves to be impressed by that.”

A Kremlin spokesperson blamed supply shortages on European sanctions.

“Technical pumping capacities are down, more restricted. Why? Because the process of maintaining technical devices is made extremely difficult by the sanctions adopted by Europe,” Dmitry Peskov said.

“Gazprom was and remains a reliable guarantor of its obligations ... but it can’t guarantee the pumping of gas if the imported devices cannot be maintained because of European sanctions.”

On Tuesday, the operator Eugas announced a booking of extra capacity for its Transgas pipeline via Slovakia and Ukraine, raising hopes in Germany that Gazprom was looking to make up for lower deliveries by pumping gas via a different route.

However, on Wednesday no increased deliveries via Transgas were reported.

“Transgas has plenty of spare capacity,” said Andreas Schröder, an energy expert for the market analyst ICIS. “If Russia really wanted to deliver its gas to Europe it could easily reroute via Slovakia. However, that would also entail paying higher transit fees to Ukraine.”

Deliveries of Russian gas through the Yamal pipeline, which passes through Belarus and Poland, ceased in May due to sanctions.

On Tuesday, energy ministers from all of the European Union’s 27 member states except Hungary backed a voluntary 15% reduction in gas usage over the winter, a target that could become mandatory if the Kremlin ordered a complete shutdown of gas to Europe.

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Ministers agreed opt-outs for island nations and possible exclusions for countries little connected to the European gas network, which will blunt the overall effect in the event of a full-blown gas crisis. Germany, which is more reliant on Russian gas than its neighbours, is expected to have to make bigger savings to help the bloc of states meet its reduction targets.

“Germany has to consume less gas,” said Klaus Müller, the head of the country’s federal network agency. He said it was unrealistic to expect Nord Stream 1 to resume delivering at 40% of capacity.

Müller said Germany had already started to make significant savings, in part due to warm temperatures in the spring and summer. Private households and industry consumed “five, six, seven per cent less gas” than usual.

However, Müller warned of difficult months ahead. “In the autumn the situation will change, gas consumption will rise,” he said, noting the country’s strong reliance on gas for its heating.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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