Russia suspends Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe indefinitely

Russia has indefinitely suspended natural gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, exacerbating pressure on Europe’s energy supplies and heightening the risks of recession the EU faces.

State-owned Gazprom, which was due to restore operations on the Baltic Sea pipeline on Saturday after three days of maintenance, said the suspension was due to a technical failure.

The move came hours after G7 nations said they were pursuing a plan to impose a price cap on Russia’s oil exports as part of a bid to cut revenues to Moscow that can be used to fund his invasion of Ukraine.

This will increase fears in European capitals that Russia aims to cut supplies further ahead of winter. Moscow has been accused of “weaponizing” its gas to stoke a cost-of-living crisis in retaliation for Western support for Ukraine.

“Gazprom’s announcement this afternoon that it is shutting down Nord Stream 1 again under spurious pretexts is further confirmation of its unreliability as a supplier,” wrote Eric Mamer, chief spokesman for the European Commission, on Twitter.

“It is also proof of the cynicism of Russia, which prefers to flare gas instead of honoring contracts.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made few attempts to hide his goal of undermining Western sanctions and halting attempts by Ukraine’s allies to reduce their dependence on Moscow’s oil and gas exports.

Gazprom had already cut Nord Stream 1 capacity since June, cutting volumes to just 20% of normal levels and triggering a more than doubling of gas prices in Europe.

The company said the shutdown was due to an oil leak discovered in the main gas turbine at the Portovaya compressor station near St Petersburg, which supplies the line that crosses the Baltic Sea to Germany.

However, Siemens Energy, which manufactures and services the turbines that power the pipeline, questioned that explanation.

“Such leaks generally do not affect the operation of a turbine and can be patched on site,” the German company said. “This is a routine procedure during maintenance work. In the past, the occurrence of this type of leak has not led to a stoppage of operations.

“Regardless of this, we have already repeatedly emphasized that there are enough additional turbines available at the Portovaya Compressor Station to keep Nord Stream 1 running,” Siemens Energy said.

After hitting a record high last week, gas prices in Europe have fallen in recent days, falling by a third to €209 per megawatt hour, although this is still around 10 times the average level of the past decade.

Prices partly fell as the EU met its target of filling storage sites to 80% capacity before the winter heating season. But gas stocks in storage alone are not enough to meet winter demand without normal Russian export flows.

Sergei Vakulenko, an independent energy expert, said Russia hoped winter shortages could force Europe to plead for gas and agree to at least some of its terms on Ukraine.

“Every bit counts,” Vakulenko said. “Therefore, Russia has most likely decided that while it likes income and creates uncertainty, it’s time for it to create as much scarcity as possible.”

Germany and other major European economies are aiming to cut their gas demand by 15% to avoid severe shortages, although they may still need to introduce rationing. Breakdowns are a possibility. Prior to its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia supplied about 40% of Europe’s gas demand.

Simone Tagliapietra, senior researcher at think tank Bruegel, said the latest announcement was an indication that a winter with “zero Russian gas” should be treated as the central scenario for Europe.

He added: “There is only one way to prepare for it: reduce the demand for gas and electricity. This must be Europe’s main political priority.

EU member states have also sought to diversify their gas supplies, including buying more liquefied natural gas transported by sea from countries like the United States. The complete shutdown of Nord Stream leaves only two major pipeline routes supplying Russian gas to the EU: one via Ukraine and another through the Black Sea and Turkey.

A representative of Germany’s economy ministry said it had already seen Russia’s unreliability as a supplier and “therefore we are much better prepared than a few months ago.”

“We will achieve our goal of obtaining [storage facilities] 85% full by October already in the first days of September,” the ministry representative added. “We are also making good progress in finding alternative supply routes to Russian routes and in building LNG import capacity.”

In Washington, the White House National Security Council said that as a result of US-European collaboration, gas storage would be full by the winter heating season. But he added: “These efforts alone will not be enough.”

EU energy ministers are due to meet in emergency session in Brussels next Friday to discuss further their winter preparations, including ways to mitigate the impact of soaring fuel prices. gas on electricity costs.

In an internal guidance document this week, the commission said member states could channel a share of inflated profits generated by power companies to consumers as part of a plan to cushion soaring electricity prices. bulk of electricity in Europe.

Additional reporting by Sam Fleming and Andy Bounds in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin, Joe Miller in Frankfurt and James Politi in Washington

Mary I. Bruner