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20 Jun, 2022 10:13

Berlin and Moscow locked in arm-wrestling match – minister

The German economy minister made the comments after Russia reduced gas exports
Berlin and Moscow locked in arm-wrestling match – minister

Berlin and Moscow are engaged in arm-wrestling over natural gas, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a TV interview on Sunday. Last Tuesday, Russia’s Gazprom reduced deliveries to Germany and several other European nations, citing technical issues, which it blamed on Siemens. 

Speaking to state-backed ZDF TV, Habeck said the “measures we have taken and the incremental approach” to the country’s energy security are right since “it was always clear that we have a huge dependence in terms of gas.” The minister used a sports metaphor to describe relations between Berlin and Moscow in this regard.

The fact is that it’s a kind of arm wrestling, in which Putin had the longer arm at the start. But that doesn’t mean we can’t get the stronger arm through enough effort.

Last Tuesday, Saint Petersburg gas giant Gazprom announced that it would reduce deliveries to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline by 40%. According to the energy corporation, Siemens, which had been commissioned to repair several compressor units, failed to return the crucial equipment on time, which resulted in the pipeline operating far below capacity. Germany and other nations alleged that Russia was using gas exports as an economic weapon in retaliation for the West’s support of Ukraine.

On the heels of this announcement, journalists asked Habeck if Germans should brace for a hard winter. The official struck a somewhat optimistic tone, insisting “it’s all still speculation.

The German government was always aware of the possibility “that Nord Stream 1 would be reduced by 60%,” he said, and this allowed Berlin to plan ahead to be “as prepared as possible” in anticipation of the latest reduction.

According to Habeck, it is thanks to the government’s efforts that the country’s gas reserves are at a “pretty good” level for this time of the year, which is 57%. “We will now see how the situation develops.

The key thing is that the gas reservoirs are to be filled by the winter, namely that they stand at 90% as the law stipulates,” he said.

In order to make up for the loss, Germany will need to purchase additional gas on the market, as well as conserving energy, he added.

However, “one must acknowledge that Putin is reducing the gas supply to Europe slice by slice also to drive up the price,” the minister noted.

In a five-page outline of Germany’s energy policy cited by DPA on Sunday, Habeck appeared less optimistic about the upcoming winter, which could prove to be “really hard” unless the country and its industries start taking steps to conserve energy.

Germany and most other European nations are already suffering from rising energy prices. Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which began in late February, sent shockwaves across the market, and led to ever-increasing costs.

While the EU has either blocked or reduced imports of Russian coal and oil as part of its sanctions, the bloc has so far stopped short of imposing any curbs on Russian gas, which many European nations, including Germany, are heavily dependent on.

German officials and business representatives have repeatedly warned that cutting off Russian gas overnight would deal a severe blow to the economy.

In late March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree requiring nations that have imposed sanctions on Moscow to pay for Russian gas in rubles or else have their gas supplies cut off. While some countries have refused to comply, others, such as Germany and Italy, have agreed to buy gas on the Kremlin’s terms.

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