The German government has appealed to the population to conserve energy after Russia cut supplies through a critical Baltic Sea pipeline bringing gas to Europe.
Deputy chancellor Robert Habeck said the situation was “serious” and that companies and citizens should do what they could to save energy. “Every kilowatt hour helps in this situation,” he said in a video appeal published on Twitter.
Russia’s state-controlled gas exporter Gazprom has cut flows through the Nord Stream pipeline by 60 per cent in recent days, citing technical problems. But Germany claims the move is political, amid escalating tensions between Moscow and the west over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, other countries also reported problems with Russian gas supplies. Italy, Slovakia and Austria said they had experienced a reduction in gas flows or had been warned by Gazprom that deliveries would be cut in the coming days.
The Russian supply curbs came as the leaders of Germany, Italy and France visited Kyiv on Thursday in a show of support for Ukraine’s government almost four months into the war.
EU politicians have accused Russia of effectively weaponising its role as one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, with fears growing that it could retaliate against EU sanctions by turning off the gas tap to Europe.
Gazprom has already shut off gas flows to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark after they refused to comply with a new rouble payment system ordered by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
European gas prices, already running close to record levels, have soared more than 70 per cent this week in response to the latest supply restrictions, reaching €146 per megawatt hour on Wednesday — a gain of almost 30 per cent on the day.
Gazprom has blamed the drop-off in gas flows on technical issues. Some of Nord Stream’s gas turbines, which were manufactured by Siemens Energy, underwent maintenance and repairs in Montreal but could not be returned to Russia because of Canadian sanctions against Gazprom, the company said.
But Germany has rejected that version of events. Habeck said late on Wednesday that Gazprom’s explanation was an “excuse” and the cut in flows was a “political action”.
“Putin is doing what we always feared he would do from the start. He is reducing the volume of gas, not at one fell swoop but gradually,” he said.
That was echoed by Germany’s federal energy regulator, which said it could not identify “any causal connection between the missing gas compressor on the Russian side and the big reduction in supplies”.
The decline in gas flows began on Tuesday when Russia cut the daily volume it delivers to Germany via Nord Stream by 40 per cent, from 167mn to 100mn cubic metres. Since then, the volume has fallen to 67mn cubic metres.
Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, warned on Thursday that Nord Stream could shut down completely should problems with the turbine persist, with devastating consequences for Germany.
But Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller said on Thursday there was “no solution” because the plant in Montreal was the only one that could repair the turbines.
Almost all Nord Stream’s other turbines were close to requiring maintenance, “but we can’t send them to Canada”, Miller said, speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
Miller said rising gas prices had offset the decline in Gazprom’s exports to Europe and Turkey. “Prices have grown . . . several times. So excuse me, but if I said we are not mad at anyone, I wouldn’t be lying.”
Germany is not the only European country experiencing supply problems. Italy’s gas deliveries fell by 15 per cent on Wednesday and Italian energy company Eni said the shortfall had worsened on Thursday. Slovakia reported a 30 per cent reduction in flows, and Austrian energy company OMV said it had been told by Gazprom that delivery volumes would be cut.
Eni said it had asked Gazprom to deliver additional supplies on Thursday to compensate for the cut the previous day, but Gazprom said it would provide only 65 per cent of Eni’s request, or about 32mn cubic metres.
Eni said Gazprom had blamed the shortfall on problems at its Portovaya plant, which feeds Nord Stream.
In Austria, which imports about 80 per cent of its gas from Russia, OMV said that despite reduced flows, demand could be covered using existing stores and supplies from the spot market. Slovakian gas supplier SPP said it had managed to diversify its supplies so the shortfall would not affect customers.
Habeck said Germany had enough gas for the moment because it was buying more on the spot market.
But analysts warned that while immediate needs could be met, filling storage ahead of peak winter demand would be much more difficult if Russian supplies continued to fall.
Additional reporting by Amy Kazmin in Rome, Sam Jones in Zurich, Joe Miller in Frankfurt, Raphael Minder in Warsaw and Andy Bounds in Brussels