Berlin continues to blame Moscow for the crisis, while Washington seeks to take advantage of the situation
Germany has been struggling to meet its energy needs for almost a year as it seeks to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Officials in Berlin still blame the nation’s problems on Moscow and its supposed ‘energy war’ against the West.
On Friday, the energy transition minister of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Tobias Goldschmidt,
accused Moscow of “starting an energy war” and “reducing gas supplies.” Federal Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who has repeatedly stated that ‘energy independence’ from Russia is worth all the trouble, called the massive energy imports from the country a “big mistake” at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this week. Why did Russia reduce gas supplies to Germany?
In June 2022, Russian energy giant Gazprom reduced gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 – a major pipeline delivering natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea – first by 40% and later by 60%.
The decision was prompted by technical issues, as German company Siemens did not
return a turbine for gas-pumping units at a Nord Stream 1 compressor station on time. Gazprom then said it had to further reduce the gas supplies to 20% of the total capacity over the summer, as four out of five turbines at the station required maintenance. Siemens could not provide the turbine due to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and EU, Gazprom stated.
Siemens accused Gazprom of lying, though admitted that only one of the five turbines needed for the gas flow was operational in August 2022.
What happened to the Nord Stream pipelines?
On September 26, the Nord Stream pipelines were damaged in a series of underwater explosions off the island of Bornholm, within the economic zones of Denmark and Sweden. Both strings of the Nord Stream 1 and one string of the Nord Stream 2 were rendered unusable by the blasts.
Sweden, Denmark, and Germany launched a probe into the incident but refused to share the results with Russia. Gazprom investigators were only allowed to inspect the blast site once in late October 2022. Moscow called the incident an
“act of terrorism” and pointed the finger at Washington.
Western officials were quick to blame Russia for the incident. Later, the Washington Post
admitted that there was no evidence implicating Moscow. No official investigation results were presented and no suspects were officially named. Fate of Nord Stream 2
Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline was completed in September 2021. However, it remained stuck in the process of certification by Berlin and Brussels until February 2022. Germany repeatedly claimed that the project did not meet EU standards despite previously defending it.
The project also faced tremendous pressure from the US from the outset. Washington declared it a threat to Europe’s security and imposed sanctions on companies involved in construction it.
Nord Stream 2 also faced vehement opposition from Ukraine and Poland, which both serve as transit countries for Russia’s overland gas network. Kiev and Warsaw feared losing leverage with the emergence of an alternative transit route.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who initially backed the project, indefinitely halted its certification after Russia recognized Ukraine’s Donbass republics as independent in February 2022.
What will Russia do now?
Moscow still considers Europe to be a viable market, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said in December 2022. The nation is also ready to resume gas supplies to Europe through the Yamal-Europe Pipeline, which is now used by Poland for reverse gas transit from Germany.
Russian gas is also still being supplied to certain European buyers via a transit line through Ukraine and the TurkStream pipeline through Türkiye.
What is happening in Germany?
German energy giants RWE and Uniper filed lawsuits against Gazprom, demanding compensation for the missing gas supplies. Gazprom said it does not recognize the violation of contracts in Uniper’s case.
Some German officials, including Saxony’s prime minister, Michael Kretschmer, have called for the Nord Stream pipelines to be restored. Germany must reserve the option to
“buy something other than expensive liquefied natural gas after the war,” he said last week.
The opening of several LNG terminals in Germany has been met with protests over the past few weeks by locals and eco-activists who object to the lack of safety checks and environmental protection measures amid the sped-up approval process.
The US is still trying to take advantage of the situation in Germany as well as in other EU nations. In October, Washington called the Nord Stream explosion a
“tremendous opportunity to become Europe’s largest LNG supplier.” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire blasted the US for selling LNG “at four times the price that it sets for its own industrialists.” “The conflict in Ukraine must not end in American economic domination and a weakening of the EU,” he warned at the time.