Russian gas giant Gazprom has announced on its Telegram channel that the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will be closed down for three more days on August 19, further stoking fears that the Kremlin intends to precipitate a major energy crisis in Europe this winter and push gas prices even higher.
The announcement came as on the same day that the vice president of Germany’s parliament suggested that Nord Stream 2 be activated for the winter to ensure that Europe gets enough gas during the cold season, an idea met with widespread derision.
Europe actively preparing for the possibility that Russia will cut it off completely over the winter can cause a large energy crisis that will cut up to 6% off growth fof the most exposed countries, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated.
“Between 31.08.2022 and 02.09.2022 the gas transport through the pipeline Nord Stream 1 will be suspended for three days,” Gazprom said. “After the completion of work and the absence of technical disruption of the block, the gas flow will be restored at the level of 33mn cubic metres.”
Russia has been reducing the flows in the pipeline since it reduced flows of gas to Europe by 60% in the middle of June, starting the current gas crisis. In July Gazprom then claimed there was a technical problem with one of the turbines and reduced the flow in the pipeline again to only 20% of its capacity. Now the gas will be turned off completely for a few days while the latest “problem” is fixed before being restored to the previous 20% of capacity level.
The uncertainty Gazprom has created has sent the price for gas flying, which was over $2,700 per thousand cubic metres on the Dutch TTF this week, just as European storage tanks passed the 75% full mark and are on track to meet the 80% full deadline by October.
Commentators say that Putin has weaponised gas and used it to strike back at Europe as part of an economic war that was launched by the West and the “massive package” of sanctions starting in March. Putin hopes to force the West to lift some sanctions and undermine its unity by inflicting heavy economic costs via Russia’s market power over several important commodities, including gas.
German Parliament Vice President Wolfgang Kubicki caused a storm after suggesting Germany should allow the blocked Nord Stream 2 pipeline to pump Russian natural gas on the same day.
Nord Stream 2 was completed last year and has been already filled with technical gas; it could be turned on tomorrow. As tensions with Russia built last year, Germany resisted calls to cancel the project that brings gas from the giant Russian Yamal gas fields in the Arctic directly to German shores along the bed of the Baltic Sea. However, following the invasion of Ukraine, Berlin immediately killed the project off as part of the first wave of sanctions imposed on Russia.
Nevertheless, with a capacity of over 50bn cubic metres of gas, turning on Nord Stream 2 would immediately solve Europe’s energy woes, but Putin has made it clear he is not prepared to send gas to Germany via Nord Stream 2 unless Germany signs off on a long-term supply contract.
Kubicki said temporarily starting Nord Stream 2 to cover the shortfall in gas supplies “would test whether Vladimir Putin is willing to increase gas shipments to Germany,” reports Politico.
The suggestion immediately provoked a strong rebuke from Kyiv.
“Calls by some German politicians to launch NS2 for a little while and close it later are totally irrational. This resembles drug addiction, when a person says “Just one last time!” without realising the devastating consequences of each “last time”. Addiction to Russian gas kills!” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.