With the partial closure of a Russian gas pipeline, Europe lives the previous energy nightmare
PARIS.- Vladimir Putin warned over the weekend that Russia “has not yet started serious things in Ukraine”. And everything seems to indicate that neither in Europe, where the fear of a definitive interruption of the Russian gas supply is growing, after Moscow closed the Nord Stream I gas pipeline today, officially “for maintenance”, further suffocating the energy-hungry continent.
Many describe the Kremlin’s decision as “Russian roulette launch” of gas. Already extremely reduced in recent weeks, the shipment of Russian gas to European countries could cease at any time if Putin decides to use it as another weapon of war in his arm wrestling with the West. And is not for less. Nord Stream I, the gas pipeline that connects Siberia with Germany, guarantees 60,000 of the 200,000 million cubic meters of methane that reach Europe each year. Every day, that pipeline –which in principle should stop working for ten days– covers the energy needs of 26 million European families.
The suspension of Nord Stream will affect not only Germany, but also Italy, in a third of its supply, and Austria, in 70%, according to the national energy officials, ENI and OMV. Both countries also receive gas through the TAG pipeline, which passes through Ukraine, but mainly through Nord Stream I.
Long planned, the suspension should in theory only be a simple technical formality. But in the context of the war in Ukraine, nobody dares to predict what will happen in the immediate future.
“Putin will turn off the tap… But will he turn it back on?”was worried today bild, the most widely read newspaper in Germany. “We are facing an unprecedented situation. Everything is possible”, recognized during the weekend the vice chancellor Robert Habeck. “As always, we must prepare for the worst,” she warned. For technical reasons, it is difficult for Gazprom to brutally stop its supplies through Nord Stream I. The gas exploited in Siberia is “under pressure” and cannot be stored indefinitely. “It’s not like a faucet”Habeck estimated.
In any case, arguing a technical problem, Moscow has already reduced 60% of its gas deliveries through Nord Stream I in recent weeks. The decision was denounced as “political” by Berlin. Putin’s goal is precisely to slowly suffocate the continent. Countries that do not agree to pay for gas in rubles –such as Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Finland or Denmark– cut off all supplies. Others began to slowly reduce their flow from mid-June. If the Kremlin decides to permanently stop shipments, Europe should prepare to cut 15% of its current gas consumption, and Germany 20%, according to the thinktank Brueghel of Brussels.
Fearing the serious economic consequences of a total interruption, and in order not to give an additional argument to Moscow, Berlin managed to convince Canada this week to return a turbine destined for Nord Stream I, sent to that country for maintenance.
Since the war began, on February 24, Germany closed another Russian gas pipeline that was to come into operation, Nord Stream II. He has also made efforts to reduce his dependence, although this is still important: 35% of his imports come from Russia, against almost 60% before the war. More than 50% of the heating in German homes is done with gas.
But a permanent stoppage of Nord Stream I would not only penalize Europe’s leading economy. According to the website of the Nord Stream company, the gas that arrives in Germany is immediately transported to Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands “and other countries”. A prolonged interruption would aggravate the energy crisis in which the block is submerged, with sky-high prices and the fear of having to go through one of the most difficult winters in the last 70 years.
European governments are already studying ration plans. Some managers of the German chemical industry, very vulnerable because it depends on gas, are preparing for “the worst case scenario”.
“If we do not receive more Russian gas, the quantities stored will only be enough for one or two months”alert klaus müller, president of the Federal Network Agency. To set an example, the German lower house adopted a symbolic energy saving plan last Thursday: the heating at more than 20°C in winter has ended and there will also be no hot water in individual offices.
In France, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno LeMairewas just as final: “Let’s prepare for a total cut off of Russian gas. Today is the most likely option., said. In Italy, the undersecretary of the Council presidency, Roberto Garofilo, warned about the risk of a “very serious energy crisis” for next winter: “We have 16,000 million cubic meters stored and we consume 70,000 million. We need to get to 90% before the fall starts,” he stated.