Russia has cut gas flows to Europe, raising fears that it is weaponizing the fuel.

BERLIN — Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly said on Monday it would cut gas supplies to Germany, as President Vladimir Putin said on the sidelines of an emergency EU meeting on natural gas consumption cuts. Once again showed his unpredictability and his strength. Pain on the block to support Ukraine

EU energy ministers are due to meet on Tuesday to consider a 15 percent cut in gas use, particularly amid concerns that the Kremlin could create artificial winter shortages for heat and power generation. Is. As if to confirm such concerns, the Russian company Gazprom said on Monday it would cut half of the flow through its North Sea pipeline to Germany by just 20 percent – as maintenance shutdowns continue. Less than a week after resuming limited flow.

Western officials dismissed Russian explanations of equipment problems — coincidentally or not, with German equipment — as nothing more than a cover for its manipulation. “Based on our information, there is no technical reason for the drop in shipments,” the German Economy Ministry said in a statement.

Ursula van der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said last week that “Putin is trying to push us into this winter,” as she proposed that member states by next spring Reduce gas consumption by 15%. The reduction is intended to build up depleted stores and better position itself for a possible Russian squeeze.

“This is exactly the kind of scenario that President van der Leyen was talking about last week,” his spokesman said on Monday. “This development validates our analysis.”

But as Western nations seek to stem the flow of fossil fuel revenues that support Russia’s government, its war machine and much of its economy, their actions are being accompanied by a series of agreements between them. A difficult balance is required, satisfying public opinion in our democracies and advancing global markets. . News of Gazprom’s latest supply cuts sent European gas futures up 12 percent on Monday. The price, previously below €30 per megawatt hour, has risen over the past year, sometimes reaching €180, or $184.

The autocratic Mr. Putin has shown since he invaded Ukraine in February that he has considerable leverage, particularly in tightening or loosening the energy spigot, and can use it at his discretion. He has also demonstrated a knack for anticipating and balancing opponents, with his government often sending conflicting signals.

On Friday, Russia signed a deal to allow grain shipments from the blockaded port of Odessa to address global food shortages – and a day later hit the port with missiles, prompting The deal was threatened. Nevertheless, Ukraine said on Monday it was moving forward with the plan and a UN spokesman said the first ship could depart within days.

Western countries are cutting off most imports of Russian oil. But it has contributed to shortages that have driven up prices, boosted Kremlin revenues and angered Western consumers, while Moscow contracts to sell to China and India instead. The Biden administration is trying to forge an international agreement to limit Russia’s oil prices on global markets, but that is a financially and diplomatically complicated endeavor.

It took weeks for the EU to agree to most Russian oil cuts, and the deal required some parts to be delayed by several months and exemptions for some smaller countries.

The EU’s proposal to cut gas consumption has sparked fresh divisions, as countries such as Greece and Spain, which are less dependent on Russian gas, seek protection from businesses and people to help their wealthy northern partner, Germany. Worried about the idea of ​​asking for. And European officials are racing to bring in alternative supplies from the Middle East, the United States and elsewhere.

Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based research institute, said the latest supply cut should show the 27 member states of the European Union how vulnerable they are, and how important it is that they remain independent of gas. Move quickly and decisively for protection. .

“The Gay Prom announcement should not come as a surprise,” said Mr. Taglipetra. “Russia is playing a strategic game here. Lower flow volatility is better than a complete cut-off because it manipulates the market and improves geopolitical effects.

Russia normally supplies 40 percent of the gas used in the EU, but in June the flow fell to less than a third of its average. Gas storage facilities in Europe, normally nearly full at this time of year in preparation for winter, are running low, putting the entire continent at risk of shortages that could disrupt industry and private lives alike. will affect

Germany, with Europe’s largest economy, has been particularly dependent on Russia for gas, which received 55 percent of its supplies before the attack, although this has declined sharply. The main channel for this supply is the 760-mile Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the North Sea.

In recent years, the pipeline has been shut down for maintenance for about 10 days each July, but in 2020 and 2021 it ran at or near both before and after the shutdown. This year, Russia began cutting gas supplies as early as mid-June, so that stores are low by the time the shutdown occurs. Gazprom blamed the shortfall on a missing turbine that had been sent to Canada for repair by the German company Siemens.

The turbine was returned to Germany last week and is now making its way to Russia. When the maintenance period ended, Gazprom resumed flow, but only to 40 percent capacity. Then on Monday, the company said it would drop to 20 percent. Sharing on his social media accounts that it is “discontinuing another gas turbine engine manufactured by Siemens.”

Hours before the announcement, the head of Germany’s agency that regulates utilities, Klaus Müller, said the country’s storage facilities had reached 65.9 percent of capacity, on track to reach a target of 75 percent by early September. are Now that is in question.

The European Commission’s protection plan calls for shared sacrifice – with promises of aid for countries in deep trouble – on the grounds that the EU’s economy is so integrated that a blow to one nation affects all. . This is especially true because the most immediately vulnerable country is Germany, the continent’s economic powerhouse.

Some member states in the bloc’s south and beyond, which use little or no gas at all from Russia, say the commission’s proposal makes little sense, but a version of it could avoid a vote. . Unlike EU sanctions and partial oil embargoes, which require unanimity, the gas protection plan only needs a “supermajority”, meaning the support of 15 member states representing 65% of the EU’s population. represents the

The commission wants to make itself responsible for declaring an energy emergency if gas stocks fall below a certain level and allow it to implement mandatory gas rationing. Such an extraordinary boost to its general powers is unlikely to be accepted by EU countries, which do not like giving the bloc autonomy.

Intensive talks in the run-up to the meeting over the past few days revolved around making adjustments to soften the proposal, shortening its duration and putting national governments in EU capitals rather than the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. Centered around. This.

Melissa Eddy Reported from Berlin and Matina Steves Gurdneuf From Brussels Richard Perez Pina Contributed reporting from New York.