Gazprom announced on Monday that it would cut its gas deliveries to Europe by 80% in order to carry out maintenance on its Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Gas prices in Europe jumped more than 10% after the announcement by the Russian state-controlled energy giant.
It came as Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Moscow wanted to overthrow Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, despite having started peace talks with his envoys months earlier.
Amid escalating rhetoric as Russia battles new Western weapons, Lavrov said Moscow was determined to help Ukrainians “free themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime”.
This is the first time the Kremlin has referred to regime change since the start of the war.
Politicians and officials across the continent have accused Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, of militarize energy supplies in retaliation against Western sanctions imposed for its invasion of Ukraine.
The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which stretches 760 miles from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, has been at the center of heightened diplomatic tensions between the West and Moscow.
Flows through the pipeline had already been reduced to 40% capacity after a turbine shipped to Canada for refurbishment failed to return, which the Kremlin blamed on Western sanctions.
But Gazprom said on social media on Monday it would cut deliveries further, to 20% of its usual amounts, to repair another of the powerful turbines that push gas through the pipeline.
The Kremlin-controlled entity said it was “stopping another gas turbine engine produced by Siemens,” a German company.
Berlin, which fears being plunged into a devastating economic recession by a complete cut off of Russian gasdismissed Gazprom’s latest excuse for a slowdown in supplies.
“Based on our information, there are no technical reasons for a reduction in deliveries,” the German economy ministry said in a statement.
Keep gas supplies low
Panicked EU governments are already squabbling over the possibility of a complete Russian gas cut this winter, which would leave the bloc struggle to heat homes and keep factories open.
But instead of completely cutting supply lines, analysts believe the Kremlin is much more likely to keep deliveries artificially low in order to manipulate the gas price.
“Gazprom’s announcement should come as no surprise,” Simone Tagliapietra, of the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel, told The New York Times.
“Russia is playing a strategic game here. Already weak fluctuating flows are better than a complete shutdown because they manipulate the market and optimize the geopolitical impact.
The Kremlin sought to assuage European fears by saying its missing turbine, which Canada eventually returned to Russia, would be reinstalled when it returned to the country.
The component was sent to Germany earlier this month but missed a ferry to Helsinki on Saturday due to a delay in paperwork, according to Russian newspaper Kommersant.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman said: “The turbine will be installed after all the technological formalities have been completed, and the flow rates will be at technologically possible levels.”
Lavrov on Monday reiterated Russia’s criticism of the West for sending heavy weapons to Ukraine and inciting it to fight the invasion.
Mr Lavrov also sought to defend a missile strike on the port of Odessa on Saturday that threw a agreement to revive Ukrainian grain exports in danger.
Kyiv said its first Black Sea port would be ready to ship grain internationally in days after the signing of agreements to unlock major exports.
Mr Zelensky called on Europe on Monday to retaliate against Russia’s “gas war” by tightening its sanctions against Moscow.
“Today we heard new gas threats against Europe… This is an open gas war that Russia is waging against a united Europe,” Zelensky said, reacting to Gazprom’s announcement of a further reduction in gas deliveries to Europe.