Russia has been playing this game for months, and now it seems to have reached its inevitable outcome. The gas supply flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been completely shut off. Russia claimed this week that it was shutting the gas supply off temporarily in order to do maintenance on the line. Then it claimed it had discovered a problem which prevented it from resuming the supply. No one is being fooled by any of this anymore. Even the German company that built the machines used to pump gas through the pipeline has said Russia’s explanation makes no sense.
The Russian-owned energy giant had been expected to resume the flow of gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline on Saturday after three days of maintenance. But hours before the pipeline was set to reopen, Gazprom said that problems had been found during inspections, and that the pipeline would be closed until they were eliminated. It did not give a timeline for restarting…
In its statement Friday, Gazprom said it found oil leaks around a turbine used to pressurize the pipeline, forcing it to call off the restart. The German company Siemens Energy, the maker of the turbine, cast doubt on that account. “As the manufacturer of the turbines, we can only state that such a finding is not a technical reason for stopping operation,” the company said late Friday. Siemens also said there were additional turbines available that could be used to keep the pipeline operating.
The Times has a helpful graph that shows how Russia has been manipulating the supply of gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline since the invasion of Ukraine:
As you can see, the supply was cut in June and since then Russia has twice turned the supply off claiming it needed to do maintenance. The most likely motive for this decision to keep the supply turned off is an effort by the G7 to limit how much Russia can earn from oil sales:
Top officials from the world’s leading advanced economies agreed on Friday to move ahead with a plan to cap the price of Russian oil, accelerating an ambitious effort to limit how much money Russia can earn from each barrel of crude it sells on the global market.
Finance ministers from the Group of 7 nations said they were firming up details of a price cap, with the aim of both depressing the price of global oil and reducing critical revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is relying on to finance Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. The untested plan has been pushed by the Biden administration as way of keeping sanctions pressure on Russia while minimizing the impact on a global economy that has been saddled with soaring energy and food prices this year…
The discussions around the plan reflect the way in which energy has become both a weapon and a source of leverage in the battle over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The United States, Britain and other Western nations have influence over Russia’s oil exports and the way they are shipped around the world since crude is primarily transported on ships that rely heavily on insurance and other financial support from the West. The cap threatens Russia’s access to those ships unless it sells at cut-rate prices.
So the G7 is trying to limit the rates the world will pay for Russian oil and Putin responded by cutting of Russian gas, probably to suggest that he could (and would be willing to) do the same with the oil supply.
Russia could do this, perhaps claiming some technical problem prevented them from transporting oil to ships. But at some point this seems likely to harm Russia at least as much as it harms Europe and the US. Oil and gas make up about half of Russia’s exports. Cutting those exports abruptly will have a substantial impact on their economy. China might be willing to pick up some of the slack but in the past China has been unwilling to pay anything above a discount price.
It seems to me that Putin has pulled the gas supply lever as far as he can. It hasn’t worked so far but he’s clearly relying on the economic pressure building to a point that Germans will decide supporting Ukraine is too costly. This week, Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock tried to address those concerns but wound up handing Russia an opening when she said she intended to support Ukraine “no matter what German voters think.”
Clear message: Foreign Minister of Germany @ABaerbock on her determination to stand with #Ukraine regardless of the political turbulence that lies ahead. This being the full version, not the manipulated snippets spread around by Russian disinfo 🇺🇦🇩🇪🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/zWdtWMSoJ1
“We are facing now a winter time where we will be challenged as democratic politicians,” she said. She continued, “People will go in the street and say we cannot pay our energy prices. And I will say, yes I know so we’ll help you with social measures but I don’t want to say then we stop with sanctions against Russia…The sanctions will stay in wintertime even if it gets really tough for politicians.”
In context she’s saying that she doesn’t want momentary discontent over energy prices to result in Russia getting away with invading and destroying an a neighboring country but her comments are, ironically, being labeled as shockingly non-responsive to citizens by Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.
🟥 Lavrov about Baerbock
“The Russophobic obsession manifests itself in everything. Yesterday, as I read, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said:
‘Yes, our citizens are suffering, but they will have to suffer because we will definitely support Ukraine.’ pic.twitter.com/jQCxOJuZAL
Sergey Lavrov is the spokesperson for an authoritarian regime run by a man who intends to rule for life. It’s a country where critics of the regime are arrested, poisoned or simply fall out of windows. He’s really not in a position to suggest democratic representatives in other nations should be more responsive to the wishes of their citizens. And yet, there are lots of people on Twitter calling Baerbock an authoritarian and somehow missing the bigger picture here.