Russia’s main gas pipeline to Germany went offline for planned maintenance on Monday, beginning an anxious 10-day wait to see whether Moscow will switch it back on.
Nord Stream 1’s operators said it needs routine servicing but there are fears that Russia will use the opportunity to shut down the pipeline for good because of its standoff with western powers over Ukraine.
A complete shutdown once maintenance ends on July 21 would add to Germany’s energy concerns after it declared a gas emergency last month and called on people to save power now so that their lights will stay on in winter.
It would also cause problems for other European countries after modelling by German regulators said the country would have to curb its onward exports, to countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic, if Nord Stream remains at a standstill.
“Let’s prepare ourselves for a total cut-off of Russian gas, today it’s the most likely scenario,” said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who insisted the government was doing everything possible to prevent energy shortages.
Although France’s many nuclear power stations partly protect its electricity grid against Russian actions, many of them are currently down for maintenance and the country is looking to import more gas from elsewhere.
Germany is hurriedly building liquid gas terminals on its northern coast so it can start importing from outside Russia this winter, but gas tanks are meant to be 80 per cent full by November under new European Union guidelines.
If Nord Stream stops and Germany does not limit exports, even a 20 per cent reduction in gas consumption for the rest of the year would leave the country short of energy, the modelling by regulators said.
Timon Grimmels, an MP from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party, said Russia could increase gas supplies through another east-west pipeline, Yamal, if it wanted to make up for the Nord Stream stoppage.
“The fact this isn’t happening is further evidence for the fact that Putin is using gas as a weapon in an economic war,” he said.
State-owned Russian exporter Gazprom has already reduced delivery through Nord Stream 1, a 1,224-kilometre pipeline under the Baltic Sea, for what it claimed were technical reasons linked to compressor units.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck last month described this as a pretext to limit supplies and drive up already alarmingly high energy prices.
Nord Stream 2, a parallel pipeline which was completed last year, never went online after Mr Scholz suspended the project in February.
Some European countries have had their supplies cut off for refusing to pay in roubles, a demand made by the Kremlin in March. Western powers see this as a breach of contract and an attempt by Russia to circumvent sanctions.