Just about everyone in Germany is facing a stressful day. The richest country in Europe is counting down to find out if Vladimir Putin has cut off its gas supply.
The Nord Stream pipeline that transports natural gas from Russia to Germany has been shut down for an annual maintenance for the past week.
Gazprom blamed a faulty turbine for the fact that it was running at only 40% capacity.
That should, in theory, be fixed now. The replacement turbine has been shipped from Canada to Russia despite protestations from the Ukrainian government.
Is maintenance really an issue?
This is really about Russia selling energy to Europe while Europe supports Ukraine’s war effort.
Through this prism, pragmatism can be seen in both directions.
Russian President is very aware of the potential for great pain if he stops supplying Europe natural gas.
Europe will now wait to see what happens, just like a worried homeowner who turns on the tap to check if the plumber has actually fixed the leak.
Will Nord Stream be revived or will Russia decide to keep it off and use it to weaponize energy?
The gas tap being turned off would cause inflation in Germany and elsewhere, as well as worsening already tight household finances.
Germany, with gas reserves less than two-thirds full, will soon have to decide whether to ration the supply to industry, households or everyone.
This could be a limit on air conditioning or factories being closed.
It’s no surprise that Germany’s industrial sector is so powerful and influential that it is urging politicians to repeal rules that prioritize private citizens during times of energy scarcity.
Many Kremlin officials might find the idea of industrial and social chaos appealing.
However, Russia still makes a lot of money by selling fossil fuels like natural gas. Even though Europe is trying to find new supply quickly, cutting off the supply could just as easily hurt Russia’s economy as it would for Europe.
It is not clear what the future holds. The German government seems nervous; Austria, which is more dependent on Russia for its natural gas supply, seems to be more relaxed.
The European Commission provided a very negative assessment of the possibility that Nord Stream will be turned back on again.
Johannes Hahn (Budget Commissioner) stated that “We don’t expect it to come back.”
“We assume that it won’t return to operational and in that event, additional measures must be taken.”
This is a hint at the Commission’s own proposal to reduce energy consumption: limits on heating/cooling and possibly interventions in the energy market.
Yet, just like the EU states that, a diplomat from a major EU nation tells me that he expects Nord Stream to turn back on but at a lower capacity than it is currently operating.
He said to me that Putin needs a point at which he can maximize the pain for Europe by driving the gas price higher and still earn the money Russia requires to continue functioning.
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This isn’t about Nord Stream. Other pipelines bring gas from Russia to Europe.
According to me, diplomats are most concerned about the supply continuity from Druzhba’s pipeline. This is the longest pipe in the world and supplies Germany as well as Poland (Hungary, Slovakia, Slovakia, Austria, and the Czech Republic).
According to one diplomat, “It’s a matter of how much pain Putin would like to inflict on us”
Germany and most of Europe are facing all the uncertainty. They urgently seek other sources of energy.
Germany is closing its last nuclear power plant. The options are limited. This sophisticated, rich nation will inevitably turn to coal to meet its needs.
However, even this may not be enough for averting an energy shortage which could lead to discontent and recession in Europe.