Europe is fearful that the Kremlin will indefinitely extend this week’s planned shutdown of a key Russian natural gas pipeline in a bid to ratchet up pressure on Western nations during the war in Ukraine, according to multiple reports.
Operator Nord Stream AG confirmed Monday that its Nord Stream 1 pipeline — a key artery for natural gas shipments from Russia to Europe — had shut down for routine maintenance. The annual shutdown typically lasts for about 10 days and is expected to conclude on July 21.
But rising tensions between Russia and Western allies have added to concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin will cut off the flow of natural gas for a much longer period in response to crippling economic sanctions — a move that could push Europe into a full-blown energy crisis.
“The last few months have shown one thing: Putin knows no taboos. A complete halt to gas supplies through the Nord Stream pipeline cannot therefore be ruled out,” Timm Kehler, managing director of German industry association Zukunft Gas, told Reuters.
Germany and other European nations remain heavily reliant on Russia oil and gas — a reality that has undercut a movement backed by Ukraine’s government and some members of the European Union to end purchases from Russian sources in response to the invasion.
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline supplies about 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe each year. Russia already cut the flow of natural gas to 40% of its capacity last month, citing the delayed return of a key piece of equipment undergoing repair work in Canada.
Germany economy minister Robert Habeck warned the country could face a “nightmare scenario” if Russia cuts off the pipeline. The country still relies on Russia for roughly one-third of its natural gas needs.
“Everything is possible, everything can happen,” Habeck told a German radio station, according to the Washington Post. “We have to prepare for the worst.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire has expressed similar concern.
“Let’s prepare ourselves for a total cutoff of Russian gas,” Le Maire said at a conference on Sunday, according to Bloomberg. “That’s the most likely scenario today.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin denied using a potential shutdown as leverage against the West.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the maintenance planned this month is routine and asserted that the country was not “inventing” any repairs.
Even before the shutdown, Germany warned last month that its citizens may face gas rations this winter due to the brewing energy “crisis” in the region.