Nordstream 1 pipeline between Russia and Germany shut down Monday

BERLIN – The main natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany shut down for scheduled maintenance on Monday, raising concerns that Moscow could use the repairs as a pretext for a longer shutdown as it uses energy supplies as leverage in the Ukrainian war.

European ministers warned that it was unclear if Moscow would turn back on the taps on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after the 10 days of scheduled work. Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, said Berlin was concerned about a “nightmare scenario” this winter if that’s the case.

“Everything is possible, everything can happen,” he told Deutschlandfunk radio on Sunday. “We have to prepare for the worst.”

Speaking at a business conference in southern France, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire went further, saying that a total cutoff was β€œthe most likely scenario.” He said “it would be totally irresponsible to ignore this scenario.”

Russia’s gas cuts to Europe in summer could bring a bitter winter

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline pumps about 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany each year, where it is also distributed to other countries in Europe. Virtually the entire European Union has said weaning itself off Russian gas should be a priority, but several member countries remain heavily reliant on Moscow.

Despite scrambling to diversify its supply since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany is still reliant on Russia for around 35 percent of its supplies and France 17 percent.

As it tries to build gas reserves before the winter, when demand is at its highest for heating in homes, the German government has urged consumers to conserve energy by taking cooler showers and using less air conditioning. Some large residential landlords have gone further, limiting overnight heating and hot water for tenants.

Habeck, who has said he’s taking shorter showers, has laid out an emergency plan in the case of a further crunch on supplies, which would involve the government intervening in the energy market.

At Berlin’s urging, Canada on Sunday said it would allow a turbine for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to return to Germany. The equipment has been stranded in Montreal, where it underwent repairs, because of Canadian sanctions on Russia.

Germany had feared the turbine’s absence could be used as an excuse by Russia for not turning the gas back on if it was not returned in time for the maintenance. Last month, Russia cut flows to 40 percent of the pipeline’s total capacity, citing delays in its return, a move Western nations called “energy blackmail.”

The Ukrainian government on Sunday criticized Canada’s decision to return the sanctioned Russian gas turbine, saying it would embolden Moscow to “continue to use energy as a tool of hybrid warfare against Europe.”

Ukrainian officials have argued that there is no technical basis for Russia’s demand that the turbine be returned because the pipeline can operate without it. Moscow, they say, is choosing to weaponize gas flow in retaliation for sanctions.

“This dangerous precedent violates international solidarity, goes against the principle of the rule of law and will have only one consequence: it will strengthen Moscow’s sense of impunity,” Ukraine’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Energy said in a statement.

The ministries urged the Canadian government to reconsider its decision and “ensure the integrity of the regime sanctions.”

The dust-up put Canada in a delicate position, caught between two allies: Germany, a NATO partner, and Ukraine. Ottawa has backed Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February, penalizing more than 1,000 people and entities, including Russia’s oil and gas sector and its manufacturing industry. Canada is home to the world’s second-largest Ukrainian diaspora community.

Canada’s Conservative opposition party also criticized the decision, saying in a statement Sunday that “the return of the gas turbine sets a dangerous precedent of folding to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s blackmail of Europe, and will negatively impact Canada’s standing on the world stage. ”

Jonathan Wilkinson, Canada’s natural resources minister, said Saturday that the permit to return the turbine is “time-limited and revocable.”

“Absent a necessary supply of natural gas, the German economy will suffer very significant hardship,” he said, “and Germans themselves will be at risk of being unable to heat their homes as winter approaches.”

Kendra Nichols contributed to this report.

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