Ukraine Live Updates: Russia Restarts Gas Flow, Easing Immediate Fears in Europe

Credit…Jens Buettner/DPA, via Associated Press

Gas began flowing to Germany from Russia early Thursday through a key pipeline that was taken offline for regular maintenance 10 days ago, easing fears in Europe that it would become the latest target in the escalating economic battle between Moscow and the West.

The pipeline, Nord Stream 1, had been offline since July 11 for annual repairs and was set to resume operations on Thursday. But after weeks of back-and-forth between Europe and Russia, European Union officials were growing worried that the pipeline would remain out of commission for longer, as punishment for opposition to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The suspense was another reminder of the reliance of Germany, and much of Europe, on Russian energy. It prompted European Union leaders this week to urge members to cut natural gas use immediately to prepare for what could be an uncertain and unsteady supply of natural gas ahead of the winter.

Europe’s heavy dependence on Russian energy has come to haunt officials who say Moscow is leveraging its oil and gas to punish those who support Ukraine.

Klaus Müller, the head of Germany’s federal network agency, responsible for monitoring the web of pipelines carrying fossil fuel to the country, said that Gazprom had indicated it would only send 30 percent of the possible amount that can be carried through the pipeline. “Changes are possible,” Mr. Mûller wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

But in the weeks leading up to the shutdown, Gazprom had already reduced flows through the pipeline to 40 percent of its capacity. In response, Berlin declared a “gas crisis” and began taking steps to encourage conservation of the fuel.

The Russians blamed the dialed-down output on the absence of a turbine from one of six compressors that maintain the pressure needed to send the gas along the pipeline’s 1,222 kilometers or 760 miles.

The European Union had predicted that Russia would not restart gas flows. “We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas, and this is a likely scenario,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said on Wednesday.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had indicated that flows would resume, but not at full capacity. Speaking to reporters late Tuesday in Tehran after meeting with the leaders of Iran and Turkey, he said that several more turbines were in need of repair, and that with others being taken offline, Gazprom would send only “half of the volume intended” through the Nord Stream pipeline.

German and European officials have dismissed Gazprom’s argument that the crimped flows are linked to repairs to a turbine, charging the Russian side with seeking to harm Western economies by cutting access to natural gas. The price of natural gas in Europe has more than quadrupled from the same period a year earlier.

Europe must drastically cut its use of natural gas immediately — by a total of 15 percent between now and the springtime — to prevent a major crisis as Russia slashes gas exports, the European Union’s executive branch said on Wednesday, calling for hard sacrifices by the people of the world’s richest group of nations.

“Russia is blackmailing us,” Ms. von der Leyen said as she introduced the E.U. plan to reduce gas consumption. “Russia is using energy as a weapon.”

Maintaining a reduced flow of natural gas could be advantageous to the Russian leader, analysts said, allowing him to keep Europeans in a protracted state of uncertainty and near panic. Russia has already ceased gas deliveries through other major pipelines to Europe that cross Poland and Ukraine.

But other analysts read the tug of war over the turbines as an attempt on Russia’s part to ensure the maintenance of the pipeline, despite the sanctions.

“I think all this turbines saga means that Russia is actually trying to safeguard its flows to Europe, not to undermine them, as it is trying to establish a sanctions-proof repair and maintenance routine,” said Katja Yafimava, a senior research fellow with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

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