Kremlin to Keep Up Its Gas Squeeze on Europe, Germany calls for lower consumption

Nord Stream 1 gas flows fell to a fifth of their capacity Wednesday. This prompted Germany’s network regulator, to appeal to the industry and households to conserve gas and avoid rationing.

Two days ago, Gazprom, the majority owner of the pipeline, announced further cuts in deliveries. This is the latest blow to Europe’s largest economy, which is still heavily dependent on fuel.

Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s Bundesnetzagentur regulator said that Germany could still avoid a shortage of gas that would force it to activate the next phase in an emergency plan that would trigger rationing.

He said that it would take effort from the industry and consumers to decrease gas consumption.

Mueller stated that “the crucial thing is to conserve gas.” He told Deutschlandfunk that he would love to hear fewer complaints and more reports (from industries) about how they are contributing to this.

According to those familiar with the Kremlin’s thinking, it is likely that the Kremlin will keep vital gas flows to Europe low as long as Ukraine remains at loggerheads. This would increase pressure on the European Union for its hardline stance against Russia’s invasion.

If the squeeze continues into winter, it could lead to Russia’s largest export market being severely short of fuel.

Russia has claimed that it was forced to cut supplies due to technical problems like turbine maintenance and missing paperwork. In reality, however, the Kremlin uses disruptions in Nord Stream to pressure European leaders to reconsider the harsh sanctions they’ve imposed on them and their support of Kyiv.

They expect Gazprom, the state-run giant of gas, and the Kremlin to continue finding reasons to limit flows, preventing European customers from building up the supplies they need to meet winter demand. EU officials have already warned of severe economic disruption if the flow stops and asked consumers to reduce their consumption of this vital fuel.

Raising Stakes

The latest in a series of high-stakes crises over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the gas dispute. It shows how willing the Kremlin is to sacrifice tens to billions of dollars in its export revenues in order to advance its geopolitical goals. According to a source familiar with the situation, Gazprom has assessed the potential impact of a cutoff that would last into next year and discovered ways to minimize the financial loss due to the surging revenues and prices this year.

One person said that some Kremlin members were surprised President Vladimir Putin didn’t act sooner to stop gas flow despite Europe’s impositions of severe sanctions against Russia and the supplying weapons to Ukraine. People claimed that Russia is using its energy power as a political tool to strike back in kind.

Recent days have seen Russia’s public line become more rigid.

Monday’s Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov suggested that Nord Stream’s problems are related to Europe’s impositions of sanctions over war. Monday’s warning was that Russia may not be interested in cutting off the gas this winter.

‘Idle Factories’

Dmitry Medvedev was a former president and Gazprom chairman and is now a senior Kremlin official best known for his dyspeptic social-media posts. He wrote that the “blue-and-yellow panic” he was referring to, refers to Ukraine’s flag colours, “has caused severe diarrhoea from the fear of freezing inside their chilly homes, and looking out frost-covered windows in idle factories.”

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