Nord Stream, the turbine of discord between Germany and Russia

With its 1,200 km of pipes under the Baltic Sea, the Nord Stream 1 is the gas pipeline through which the bulk of Russian gas arrives in Europe. However, on Friday August 19, the Russian giant Gazprom announced a new cut in this gas pipeline, from August 31 to September 2, because of a « maintenance required » for its operation.

In mid-July, a first shutdown of the gas pipeline for ten days had already raised fears in the European Union of running out of gas and raised its world price. Since then, gas deliveries have resumed but at a rate which remains reduced by 20% by the Russian gas company, compared to the previous volume.

This second cut constitutes a new snag in deliveries. And at the center of this dispute is a Siemens turbine, a part demanded by Russia to operate the pipeline, and which has undergone an overhaul in Canada. The EU instead points to a bogus excuse on the part of the Russians for not supplying natural gas.

An express repatriation suspended

This turbine has now been stored at the Siemens factory in Mülheim, Germany, for weeks. The Ukrainians have tried to get her not to be sent back by Canada to Germany, under the sanctions against Russia, but without success. Germany took it back at the end of July. But at present, the famous turbine has still not reached its final destination, Russia.

In a message posted on Telegram on Thursday August 4, Gazprom announced that it was « impossible » to convey the part. The company points the finger at the sanctions. “The sanctions regimes in Canada, the EU and the UK, as well as the inconsistencies of the current situation regarding Siemens’ contractual obligations make delivery impossible”, assures Gazprom, accusing Germany of not having provided it with the necessary documents.

The German Federal State immediately defended itself against this accusation. During a visit to the factory where the turbine is located in early August, Chancellor Olaf Scholz recalled that” no reason (regardless) delivery to take place »and that Berlin is simply waiting “the customs information necessary for (the) transport (from turbine) to Russia ».

The European Union was also quick to defend Germany. “The EU sanctions regime does not affect goods and services related to the industrial transport of natural gas to the EU and Nord Stream 1 is not subject to any sanctions”, said Arianna Podestà, spokesperson for the European Commission, in response to Gazprom.

Negotiations stalled

Three weeks later, the turbine is still stored in Germany, while the hope of a full relaunch of Nord Stream 1 is gradually dying away.

For both Germany and Canada, Russia’s allegations are difficult to accept. “President Putin is trying to use this turbine issue as a way to create dissension among allies within the G7,” estimated Mélanie Joly, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, supported by her German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock.

The pill is difficult to pass, especially since the imperative need for this turbine is doubtful. Interviewed by CNBC on August 6, Christian Bruch, the CEO of Siemens, argued that the supply problems could not be justified by the lack of this equipment alone.

Europeans are looking for an alternative

According to the initial schedule, the part was to be delivered in September to the Russian company, “there is therefore no delay yet, underlined the president of the German company. There are other turbines that should be overhauled. But we still don’t have a major operating failure alert. That’s why I can’t believe that a technical reason is blocking the gas supply”.

“There could be other reasons, and that’s where I can’t really comment,” he added, suggesting that the turbine would be a pretext to cut off gas supplies to Europe.

Faced with this blockage, European countries are continuing their efforts to reduce their dependence and find alternatives to Russian gas. But there is still a long way to go to do without Nord Stream deliveries completely: last year, Russia accounted for some 40% of EU gas imports.

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