Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow is ready to resume gas supplies to the European Union via a link of the Germany-bound Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea – an offer quickly rejected by Berlin.
Speaking at a Moscow energy forum on Wednesday, Putin said that one of the two links of the pipeline remained pressurised despite a series of ruptures last month which caused major leaks, sending gas spewing out off the coast of Denmark and Sweden.
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The Nord Stream 1 pipeline was also ruptured by powerful underwater explosions in September.
Western officials have linked the incidents to “sabotage” but have held back from attributing responsibility for the blasts while investigations by German, Danish and Swedish officials continue.
Putin said that if checks prove the Nord Stream 2 link is safe to operate, Russia stands ready to use the pipeline to pump gas to Europe, adding its capacity stands at 27 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has never brought natural gas to Europe because Germany prevented the flows from ever starting just before Russia launched military action in Ukraine on February 24.
Putin also repeated an earlier accusation that the United States was likely behind the blasts on the Nord Stream pipelines, without providing any evidence to support his claim, and floated the idea of creating an alternative European gas hub via Turkey.
“The act of sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 is an act of international terrorism aimed at undermining energy security of the entire continent by blocking supplies of cheap energy,” Putin said, alleging that the US wants to force Europe to switch to importing more expensive liquefied natural gas.
‘Russia no longer a reliable supplier’
Germany’s government was quick to dismiss Putin’s suggestion.
“Independently of the possible sabotage of the two pipelines, we have seen that Russia is no longer a reliable energy supplier, and that even before the damage to Nord Stream 1 there was no longer any gas flowing,” government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann told reporters in Berlin.
“So for us, there is no reason to believe that that would change,” she said. Asked if she would rule out the use of Nord Stream 2, Hoffmann replied: “Yes.”
While Russia is still pumping gas to Europe via Ukraine, the explosions on the Nord Stream pipelines have exacerbated acute energy shortages faced by the EU’s 27 member states as winter on the continent looms.
Before the explosions, Russia had slashed supplies along Nord Stream 1. Moscow blamed technical problems linked to Western sanctions for the stoppage, but European leaders accused Putin of deliberately cutting exports in an attempt to erode their support for Ukraine.
EU ministers meet over crisis
Natural gas powers factories, heats homes and generates electricity, and despite Russia’s reductions, Europe has been able to bring its gas storage to 90 percent full for winter by securing alternative supplies.
Still, the cutbacks have caused prices to soar, driving inflation, pressuring governments to help ease the pain of sky-high energy bills for households and businesses and raising fears of rationing and recession.
EU energy ministers were meeting in Prague on Wednesday to try to agree on new measures to tackle the energy crisis.
Most of the bloc’s 27 member states countries support a gas price cap, but disagree on its design. However, some countries – including Germany, Europe’s biggest gas market – remain opposed, arguing it risks choking off supplies.
Germany and the Netherlands put forward their own proposals before Wednesday’s meeting in the Czech capital – suggesting 10 “no-regret” EU measures, including a new benchmark price for liquefied natural gas, tougher targets to save gas, and negotiating lower prices with other suppliers, such as Norway.