Russia’s Gazprom further halves gas flow to Europe amid turbine dispute

Russia tightened its gas squeeze on Europe on Monday as Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, said supply through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany would fall to just 20% of capacity.

Gazprom said flows would fall to 33 million cubic meters a day from 4 a.m. GMT on Wednesday – a halving of the current, already reduced level – as a Siemens gas turbine had to be shut down in a compressor station on instructions from an industry watchdog.

However, Germany has said it sees no technical reason for the latest cut, which comes as Russia and the West trade economic blows in response to what Moscow calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

The pipeline, which has a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters per year, is Russia’s largest gas connection to Europe.

The European Union has repeatedly accused Russia of using energy blackmail, while the Kremlin says the shortfalls were caused by maintenance issues and the effect of Western sanctions.

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is seen in Lubmin, Germany, on March 8. Gazprom said flows would fall to 33 million cubic meters a day from 4 a.m. GMT on Wednesday – a halving of the current, already reduced level. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

European politicians have said Russia could cut off gas flows this winter, plunging Germany into recession and sending prices soaring for consumers already struggling with higher food and energy prices . Germany was forced last week to announce a US$15 billion bailout of Uniper, its biggest gas importer from Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced the latest cut, warning the West this month that continued sanctions could trigger catastrophic energy price hikes for consumers around the world.

Russia had already cut flows through Nord Stream 1 to 40% capacity in June, citing the delayed return of a turbine that was being serviced by Siemens Energy in Canada – an explanation Germany dismissed as false.

It then shut down Nord Stream 1 completely for 10 days of annual maintenance this month, restarting it last Thursday at 40% of normal levels.

The maintenance of this first turbine is still a matter of dispute because the excuse returns to Russia through a tangle of documents and contradictory declarations.

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Gazprom said on Monday it had received documents from Siemens Energy and Canada but “they do not remove previously identified risks and raise additional questions.”

In addition, Gazprom said there were still questions about EU and UK sanctions, “the resolution of which is important for the delivery of the engine to Russia and the urgent overhaul of other engines in gas turbine for the Portovaya compressor station”.

Siemens Energy said transport of the serviced turbine to Russia could begin immediately, and the ball was in Gazprom’s court.

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“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,” he said.

“What is missing, however, are the customs documents for importing into Russia. Gazprom, as a customer, is obliged to provide them.”

The German company said it sees no connection between the turbine problem and the gas cuts implemented or announced by Gazprom. Gazprom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Kremlin said earlier that Moscow was not interested in a complete shutdown of Russian gas supplies to Europe, which is struggling to fill its underground storage before the peak of the winter season.

The disruption has raised the possibility of gas rationing on the continent, with the European Union last week proposing that member states cut their gas consumption by 15% between August and March.

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% of its gas and 30% of its oil from Russia.