World · August 3, 2022

Russia-Ukraine War: Live Updates – The New York Times

Credit…Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Standing in front of a huge metal turbine that normally pushes natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed Russia’s argument that technical problems were behind the sharp reduction in gas flows. gas to Germany.

He said the only reason the car hasn’t been returned to Russia yet after undergoing maintenance work is that Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy giant, didn’t want it back.

The turbine, which is at the center of a dispute between Germany and Gazprom, was exhibited Wednesday at a news event in the western city of Mülheim an der Ruhr, where it has been stored since it was returned from renovations in Canada.

Gazprom and Vladimir V. Putin, president of Russia, blamed Siemens Energy, the manufacturer of the turbine, for delays in returning it to Russia. They have repeatedly mentioned the need “Documents and clarifications required,” and said its absence was the reason it reduced gas flows to 20% capacity.

Gazprom issued a statements later Wednesday saying that sanctions issued by Canada, Germany and Britain prevented him from taking back the turbine. But Mr. Scholz had said earlier that nothing stood in the way of his return.

After weeks of only concise replies, the German side seemed intent on calling Gazprom and Putin’s bluff.

“It is obvious that nothing, absolutely nothing stands in the way of the further transportation of this turbine and its installation in Russia. It can be carried and used at any time, ”Scholz told reporters. “There is no technical reason for reducing gas supplies.”

European officials say Russia is cutting gas deliveries to punish Europe for its opposition to the war in Ukraine. In mid-June, Gazprom reduced the amount of gas it was delivering to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just 40% of possible capacity. Last week, he cut the amount by half again.

Germany still relies on Russia to meet roughly a third of its natural gas needs, down from more than half before the war began, but still enough to leave the country teetering for cuts. It is rushing to stock up enough fuel before demand picks up in the winter, in hopes of avoiding rationing and closing key industries if Russia cuts off supplies completely.

Gas storage facilities in Germany were 69% full as of Wednesday, but officials told companies and citizens to start reducing energy consumption as much as possible while the weather was still warm. Almost half of all homes in Germany are gas-heated and families, along with essential infrastructure such as hospitals and rescue services, will have priority in the event of a shortage.

Putin suggested that Germany could solve its gas problem by opening the second gas pipeline that was taken out of service just days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Nord Stream 2.

That proposal was picked up by Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor who remains close to Putin despite being marginalized by his own political party, the Social Democrats and many Germans. In an interview with the German weekly Stern, Mr. Schröder, who met the Russian president in Moscow last week, also said that the Kremlin is open to talks to end the war, on the condition that Ukraine surrenders its claims on Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 – as well as its aspirations to join NATO.

Asked about the prospect of restarting Nord Stream 2, Scholz stifled a laugh, pointing out that his twin pipeline running under the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 1, was already underused, as were other land connections through Ukraine. as well as one via Belarus and Poland, which Russia had sanctioned.

“There is enough capacity with Nord Stream 1,” he said. “All the contracts that Russia has concluded for the whole of Europe can be fulfilled with the help of this pipeline”.

Reduced flows of natural gas have pushed prices in Europe to record highs. They remained about double on Wednesday than in mid-June, when Russia began restricting flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Christian Bruch, the head of Siemens Energy, who appeared with Mr. Scholz, said his company was in regular talks with Gazprom over the turbine issue and was eager to return it so that other Siemens turbines used in the pipeline could also be taken for maintenance.

But the Russian firm has a “different view” of the situation, he said, without elaborating.

“This turbine is ready for use immediately,” said Mr. Scholz. “If Russia doesn’t take this turbine now, it shows the whole world that not taking it is just an excuse to cut back on gas supplies to Germany.”