Russia shuts down Nord Stream gas pipeline to Europe

Russia has halted the flow of gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Europe for three days, the latest disruption to an energy link that has been central to Moscow’s efforts to squeeze supplies.

Wednesday’s shutdown of the pipeline, which Russia claims is needed for essential maintenance, will add to anxiety in European countries as they seek to secure vital supplies ahead of the winter months.

Russia has been accused of “weaponising” energy supplies to Europe and stoking a cost of living crisis in retaliation for western sanctions linked to its invasion of Ukraine.

Prices have more than doubled since Gazprom first restricted supplies on the pipeline three months ago, limiting capacity to 20 per cent.

Italian energy company Eni said on Wednesday that its supply of gas from Gazprom had been cut by more than a quarter to 20mn cubic metres per day, down from about 27mn cubic metres per day in recent days. Eni was receiving about 37mn cubic metres a day from Gazprom before the reductions in June.

French utility Engie has also reported a complete cut in supplies over what Gazprom has described as a contract dispute.

The European gas market has experienced some relief, however, with prices coming off the all-time highs hit last week. After surging to a peak above €340 per megawatt hour on Friday — the equivalent of almost $550 a barrel in oil terms — gas prices have fallen back to €234/MWh, including a further 6 per cent fall on Wednesday, although prices are only back to where they were trading in mid-August.

Europe’s gas storage reached 80.17 per cent on Monday, according to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe, which is well ahead of the EU target to hit 80 per cent by November.

Traders said that while European utilities would continue to fill storage ahead of the winter months, the mass rush to grab all the available gas could dissipate slightly now that the 80 per cent target had been reached. Prices remain roughly 10 times the average level of the past decade.

Russia blamed the supply cuts on western sanctions against the country over its invasion of Ukraine. Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters Russia and Gazprom “had been and remained faithful to our obligations and contracts” but now “cannot fulfil them because of the limits and sanctions”, according to Interfax.

Peskov said that only one of the turbines powering the equipment that pumped the gas through Nord Stream 1 was operational, and claimed that the others either required repairs or faced legal obstacles that prevented Gazprom from using them.

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, called on the EU to deepen its sanction measures on Russia for weaponising energy supplies and continuing its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine has repeatedly pointed out that, despite Moscow’s protestations about technical issues with Nord Stream 1, it has declined to utilise additional pipeline capacity through Ukraine that would maintain supplies to Europe.

“The answer to Russian gas blackmail is visa restrictions and a gas embargo . . . Russia can only be defeated by force,” Yermak said.

Sergiy Makogon, chief executive of Ukraine’s gas transportation operator, said in an earlier statement that “there was no increase in applications for transportation through Ukraine”.

“Only 40 per cent of reserved capacity through Ukraine is used,” Makogon added.

Additional reporting by Shotaro Tani in London