Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the flow of Russian natural gas to European customers has dwindled due to the West’s own fault and warned that it could continue ebbing.
Putin’s statement on Tuesday further cranked up pressure on the European Union, which fears Russia could cut off gas to wreak economic and political havoc in Europe in the winter. On Wednesday, the bloc will outline emergency plans to reduce gas demand within months, warning countries that without deep cuts now they could struggle for fuel during winter if Russia cuts off deliveries.
Speaking to Russian reporters in Tehran, where he attended the talks with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, Putin said the amount of gas pumped through the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany will fall further from 60 million to about 30 million cubic metres a day, or about one-fifth of its capacity, if a turbine is not quickly replaced.
He said there were five gas pumping units, operated by Siemens Energy at Nord Stream 1, while one more unit was out of order due to “crumbling of inside lining”.
On Wednesday, the German government on Wednesday accused Russia of using the absence of the turbine as an “excuse” to limit gas deliveries.
“I would like to stress that according to our information this is an excuse by the Russian side,” a German economy ministry spokeswoman told reporters when asked about the reduced flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
The repaired turbine is currently understood to be en route to Russia, according to German media, as routine maintenance work on Nord Stream 1 is due to be completed on Thursday.
“We are doing everything we can to eliminate this excuse from the Russian side,” the economy ministry spokeswoman said, noting that the turbine in question was not meant to be deployed until September.
Nord Stream 1, which runs on the bed of the Baltic Sea to Germany, has been in focus since Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24 in what Moscow describes as a “special military operation”.
Putin, meanwhile, said Russia could launch the recently completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that has never entered service, but noted that it would only have half of its designated capacity because the rest has been used for domestic needs.
The Russian leader also warned the West that its plan to cap the prices of Russian oil as part of its sanctions over Ukraine will destabilise the global oil market and make prices soar.
“We are hearing some crazy ideas about restricting the volumes of Russian oil and capping the Russian oil price,” he said. “The result will be the same — a rise in prices. Prices will skyrocket.”
Since Russian troops rolled into Ukraine in February, the EU has approved bans on Russian coal and most oil to take effect later this year but did not include natural gas because the 27-nation bloc depends on it to power factories, generate electricity and heat homes.
However, Gazprom, the state-controlled natural gas giant, reduced gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60 percent last month, citing technical problems after a turbine that Siemens sent to Canada for overhaul could not be returned because of sanctions.
Canada and Germany made a deal to return the turbine, but Putin said on Tuesday that Gazprom still has not received the relevant documents.
The Russian president said Gazprom was to shut another turbine for repairs in late July, and if the one that was sent to Canada was not returned by that time, the flow of gas will ebb even more.
He also pointed out that Ukraine closing a branch of a transit pipeline carrying the Russian gas to the West that comes via the territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists as another reason behind the dwindling Russian gas flow to Europe.
German and other European leaders have rejected the Russian arguments, saying the reductions in gas supplies were political.
The EU fears that Russia will cut off gas to try to wreak economic and political havoc in Europe this winter.
Putin, in turn, insisted that: “Gazprom has always fulfilled and will fulfil all of its obligations,” charging that “our partners are trying to shift the blame for their own mistakes to Gazprom without any basis.”