Russian natural gas is flowing again through a major pipeline to Europe on Thursday, after being shut for 10 days for scheduled maintenance.
It’s a relief for many who worried Russia would refuse to reopen the pipeline after closing it on July 11. However, Europe may be wary of celebrating too early — the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is operating well below capacity, and Russia can decide to limit or cut off exports to the European Union.
Why is the Nord Stream pipeline important?
Nord Stream 1 connects Russia’s vast gas reserves to Europe via Germany, pumping 55 billion cubic meters of gas annually into the European Union. Nearly a third of Germany’s gas supplies flow through it.
Russia remains at odds with much of Europe because of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. It has closed the taps on a handful of European countries and energy companies that have refused to pay using rubles.
Even before its closure, Nord Stream 1 was delivering less than half of its usual capacity, after Russian state-owned Gazprom cut the flow by 60% in June. Gazprom blamed the reduction on a gas turbine, which was sent to Canada for repairs and couldn’t be returned thanks to Western sanctions on Russia.
Earlier this month, Canada said the turbine could be sent to Germany, but Gazprom tweeted Wednesday that sanctions prevented delivery to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that gas flow could drop by another 20% if the turbine doesn’t arrive by next week.
German officials disputed Gazprom’s explanation, saying the turbine was meant to be installed as a replacement in September, and blaming the company for trying to increase energy prices.
The gas is greener on the other side
Much of the EU relies on Russian gas to heat homes during winter, and leaders are preparing to limit their reliance in an effort to stave off a showdown with Russia.
Germany plans to increase its storage capacity requirements of natural gas. The European Commission on Wednesday announced a plan to reduce gas use by 15% through next spring, and is encouraging energy companies to find alternative sources of energy.
“Russia is blackmailing us,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “Russia is using energy as a weapon.”