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Russia’s Gazprom to slash gas to Germany, as Putin fosters uncertainty in Europe

The sun rises behind the landfall of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in Lubmin, Germany. (Markus Schreiber/AP)

BERLIN — Russian energy giant Gazprom on Monday said it would halve the natural gas flowing through its main pipeline to Germany, keeping European countries in a state of uncertainty as they scramble to build up energy supplies for winter.

Starting Wednesday, the daily gas flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline — the biggest between Russia and Western Europe — will be set at 33 million cubic meters, Gazprom said. That amounts to about 20 percent of capacity, down from 40 percent. Gazprom cited problems with a turbine.

Germany’s Ministry for the Economy and Climate said it saw no technical reason for the reduction in deliveries. “We are monitoring the situation very closely,” it said in a statement.

German officials have accused Russia of using repairs as a pretext to squeeze Europe, causing prices to soar and giving President Vladimir Putin leverage against Western countries backing Ukraine in the war.

Amid summer heat wave, Germany worries about having enough gas for winter

Last week, it was unclear if Russia would turn the gas back on after the end of scheduled maintenance work on Nord Stream 1, which stretches 760 miles under the Baltic Sea.

The gas did start pumping again on Thursday, providing some relief to global energy markets and concerned European officials. But even then, the flow was at the reduced level the pipeline had been delivering at since June, when Gazprom first cited technical problems with its turbines.

Germany is still dependent on Russia for around a third of its supplies and has been racing to fill up its gas storage facilities before gas is needed to heat homes this winter. This week’s further reduction will hamper German plans to have storage capacity 75 percent full by September and 95 percent by November.

Germany has begun to cut consumption wherever it can. Some landlords are already rationing hot water, which has been turned off in many public buildings, while lights have been dimmed and public fountains lie still.

The hope has been to avoid more drastic measures. Though in a further stage of the country’s emergency plan, the regulator could be asked to intervene in the market to decide which industries should be provided with gas and which should not — a move that would send shock waves through Europe’s largest economy.

“The risk of serious delivery restrictions or failures as a result of the Russian president’s blackmail policy could lead to one of the country’s most severe economic crises, with serious consequences for our social security and our internal peace,” said Winfried Kretschmann, the prime minister of the western state of Baden-Württemberg, as he presented plans for 20 percent gas savings at a regional gas summit on Monday, hours before Gazprom’s announcement.

At that summit, Klaus Müller, the head of Germany’s energy regulator, the Federal Network Agency, expressed confidence that a delivery level of 40 percent through Nord Stream 1 would enable the storage tanks to be filled further.

“However, this does not mean the all-clear and the situation remains tense, as we need significant savings and additional gas purchases in order to avoid a gas emergency over the next two winters,” he said.

But later on Monday afternoon, he confirmed on Twitter that Gazprom had officially indicated that flows through the pipeline would be cut to 20 percent starting Wednesday.

Gazprom said it needs to shut down the turbine due to its “technical condition.”

The company also separately said it had issues with paperwork for a second turbine that is in the process of being returned from Canada. That turbine was being repaired in Montreal when the war started, then was stranded because of Canadian sanctions on Russia. Its absence was cited by Gazprom when it reduced supplies in June. Germany urged Canada to return it to avoid excuses for further supply disruptions.

Gazprom on Monday said it had received documents issued by the Canadian authorities regarding the return of the turbine, but “they do not eliminate the previously identified risks and give rise to additional questions,” pointing toward delays with it being put back to use.

Florian Neuhof in Berlin contributed to this report.

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