(Berlin) Germany and with it Europe entered a period of great uncertainty on Monday about the continuation of their imports of Russian gas, already greatly reduced in recent weeks and which could soon dry up completely.
The Russian giant Gazprom began maintenance work on the two Nord Stream 1 gas pipelines in the morning, which carry a large quantity of its gas, which is still delivered to Germany and several other countries in western Europe.
“Nord Stream is stopped […] which means that the gas no longer circulates,” the German economy ministry confirmed to AFP on Monday.
This stoppage for ten days of the two pipes, announced for a long time, was in theory only to be a technical formality. But in the context of the war in Ukraine and the showdown between Moscow and the West over energy, no one can bet on the future.
As a warning, Gazprom on Monday also reduced its gas deliveries to Italy and Austria, respectively by a third and 70%, indicated the energy companies OMV and ENI. The two countries are partly supplied by the TAG gas pipeline, which passes through Ukraine, but also by the Nord Stream gas pipeline.
“There are many scenarios under which we could be plunged into an emergency situation,” German Network Agency President Klaus Müller warned on ZDF television on Monday.
“Prepare for the worst”
“Germany in full gas shock! exclaimed Monday in one of Germany’s most widely read daily, Bild.
“We are facing an unprecedented situation, everything is possible,” acknowledged German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck over the weekend on public radio.
“It is possible that the gas will flow again, even in greater quantities than before. It is possible that nothing more will come and we must prepare as always for the worst,” he added.
Moscow, citing a technical problem, has already reduced gas deliveries by Nord Stream by 60% in recent weeks, a decision denounced as “political” by Berlin.
Berlin therefore worked hard to convince Canada on Saturday to return a turbine intended for Nord Stream 1, which was under maintenance in the country. And this despite protests from Ukraine.
Germany did not want to give Moscow an additional argument to interrupt its gas deliveries. The turbine once repatriated by its manufacturer Siemens will then be handed over to Russia, Berlin said on Monday.
Berlin also argues that, for technical reasons, it would be difficult for Gazprom to stop its deliveries via Nord Stream, as the gas exploited in the Siberian field is “under pressure” and cannot be stored forever. “It’s not like a water tap,” Habeck said.
Fear of rationing
Since the start of the war, Germany has made efforts to reduce its dependence, but it is still significant: 35% of its gas imports come from Russia, compared to 55% before the war. And more than 50% of the heating of homes is always provided with gas.
A lasting shutdown of Nord Stream 1 would not only penalize Europe’s largest economy: ordinarily, the gas that arrives in Germany continues to be transported to all of Europe.
In France, the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire called on Sunday to “quickly get into battle order” to deal with the possibility of a total cut in supplies, “the most likely option”.
A prolonged halt in deliveries would therefore aggravate the energy crisis in which Europe is already struggling, with prices soaring and the fear of shortages this winter.
In Germany, the authorities are already considering rationing plans and calling for savings.
“We must do everything to save gas now, optimize heating, discuss with family, prepare industries – we are not powerless”, hammered Monday Klaus Müller, the boss of the federal network agency.
The Chamber of Deputies has already adopted a symbolic savings plan for it on Thursday: more heating above 20 degrees in winter and more hot water in individual offices.