Russia's state-owned gas supplier Gazprom is tightening its gas squeeze on Europe, cutting supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just 20 per cent of capacity due to alleged maintenance issues.
- The pipeline's capacity was already cut down to 40 per cent in June
- Germany rejected Gazprom's claim that technical issues were to blame
- Vladimir Putin has warned continued sanctions could trigger catastrophic energy price rises around the world
Gazprom said flows would fall to 33 million cubic metres per day from Wednesday — a halving of the current, already reduced level — because it needed to halt the operation after instructions from an industry watchdog.
Germany said it saw no technical reason for the latest reduction, which comes as Russia and the West exchange economic blows in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The pipeline, which has a capacity of 55 billion cubic metres a year, is the single biggest Russian gas link to Europe.
The European Union has repeatedly accused Russia of resorting to energy blackmail, while the Kremlin says the shortfalls have been caused by maintenance issues and the effect of Western sanctions.
Politicians in Europe have said Russia could cut off gas flows this winter, which would thrust Germany into recession and lead to soaring prices for consumers already grappling with higher prices for food and energy.
Germany was forced last week to announce a $US15 billion ($22 billion) bailout of Uniper, its biggest company importing gas from Russia.
Warning to the West for continued sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin had foreshadowed the latest cut, warning the West this month that continued sanctions risked triggering catastrophic energy price rises for consumers around the world.
Russia had already cut flows through Nord Stream 1 to 40 per cent of capacity in June, citing the delayed return of a turbine that was being serviced by Siemens Energy in Canada — an explanation that Germany rejected as spurious.
It then shut Nord Stream 1 altogether for 10 days of annual maintenance this month, restarting it last Thursday at 40 per cent of normal levels.
The decrease to 40 per cent of normal levels caused Germany to officially designate gas as a scarce commodity.
The servicing of that first turbine is still a matter of dispute as it makes its way back to Russia through a tangle of paperwork and conflicting statements.
Siemens Energy said the transport of the serviced turbine to Russia could start immediately, and the ball was in Gazprom's court.
The German company said it saw no link between the turbine issue and the gas cuts implemented or announced by Gazprom.
The Kremlin said earlier that Moscow was not interested in a complete stoppage of Russian gas supplies to Europe, which is straining to fill its underground storage before the peak demand winter season.
The disruption has raised the risk of gas rationing on the continent, with the European Union proposing to member states last week that they cut gas use by 15 per cent between August and March compared with the same period of previous years.
Russia is the world's second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, and the world's largest exporter of natural gas.
Europe imports about 40 per cent of its gas and 30 per cent of its oil from Russia.