Russian state-controlled Gazprom announced a major escalation in Moscow’s energy war with Western Europe on Friday by saying the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline would remain closed indefinitely, a move that raises the prospect of blackouts and economic unrest across the continent.
The decision was immediately condemned in capitals across the continent, but despite the anger Gazprom’s decision will only heighten fears that Europe, which has long relied on Russian energy, will face a winter rigorous, which also includes rationing and potentially crippling prices. mounted.
The 1,200 km (745 mile) undersea gas link, which connects the Baltic Sea near St. Petersburg to northeastern Germany, was due to reopen on Saturday after several days of maintenance work.
But the energy giant, long seen by many critics as a tool of Russian foreign policy, said on social media that the pipeline, which can send a maximum of 170 million cubic meters of gas each day, will remain indefinitely closed because engineers had suddenly discovered an oil leak.
Gazprom said on social media that the leak was discovered in a vital turbine and identified “malfunctions”. He did not give a timeframe for reopening.
He added that he had identified oil leaks from four turbines at the Portovaya compressor station at the Russian end of the pipeline, including the only operational one.
He also claimed to have received warnings from Russia’s industrial safety watchdog that the leaks “do not allow safe and trouble-free operation of the gas turbine engine”.
“In this context, it is necessary to take appropriate measures and suspend the operation of the gas compressor unit in connection with the identified serious (security) violations,” the company said.
In recent weeks, Nord Stream 1 has only been running at 20% capacity.
European Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said the decision was made under “false pretexts” and proved Gazprom’s “unreliability” as a supplier.
He added that it was further “proof of Russia’s cynicism”.
European countries have been panicking and rushing to find additional gas supplies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Many bought expensive liquefied gas that comes by ship from countries like Qatar, while additional supplies came by pipeline from Norway and Azerbaijan.
Friday’s announcement by the Russian gas giant came just hours after G7 finance ministers agreed to a global price cap on Russian oil and petroleum products.
The cap will be implemented by introducing a ban on the provision of services such as insurance and finance to any vessel carrying Russian-origin crude and related products at a price above the permitted price.
In a statement, the G7 nations – the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the EU – said the cap was “specifically designed to reduce Russian revenues and Russia’s ability to finance its war of aggression while limiting the impact of Russia’s war on world energy prices”.
This and Russia’s rapid response will increase tensions over energy becoming the last proxy front line in the battle between Moscow and its growing number of European rivals, due to the invasion and war in Ukraine.
It could also see another calamitous rise in gas prices, threatening poverty for millions, which is already affecting many countries not dependent on Russian gas, such as the UK.
Experts have warned of impending ‘disaster’ for millions of people in Britain, amid calls for the government to come up with an urgent plan to protect people and businesses from the looming crisis.
British Chancellor Nadim Zahawi said on Twitter that the cap was an “important measure” that would “reduce Russian revenues and mitigate the impacts of Putin’s war on global energy prices to support the most vulnerable”.
Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday that Russia would find it advantageous to sell oil at a price capped by Western countries, because otherwise it would have to halt production, and its ability to restart production would suffer. permanent damage.
Yellen told MSNBC in a live interview that the G7 price cap plan would reduce funds available for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
“They’ll be a lot better off economically if they choose to sell under the price cap than if they shut down that oil,” she said of Russia.
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