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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Russia has no reason to hold up the return of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline gas turbine serviced in Canada and now stranded in Germany in an escalating energy standoff.
On a factory visit to Siemens Energy in Muelheim an der Ruhr on Wednesday, Scholz said it was fully operational and could be shipped back to Russia at any time, provided Moscow was willing to take it back.
European governments are watching the fate of the 12m turbine closely. They have accused Russia of throttling gas supplies in revenge for Western sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.
Moscow denies the claim and says turbine problems caused lower gas flows through Nord Stream 1, now at 20% of capacity.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov contradicted Scholz’s remarks on Wednesday, blaming lack of documentation for holding up the turbine’s return to Russia.
He dangled the prospect of Europe getting gas through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a Moscow-led project blocked by the West when Russia invaded Ukraine.
The turbine’s movements were shrouded in secrecy and its whereabouts were unknown until Tuesday night when the chancellor’s visit to Siemens Energy was announced.
“The turbine works,” Scholz said, telling reporters that the point of his visit was to show the world that the turbine worked and “there was nothing mystical to observe here”.
“It’s quite clear and simple: the turbine is there and can be delivered, but someone needs to say ‘I want to have it’.”
Even if Russia took the turbine back, Scholz warned that Germany could face more disruption down the line and supply contracts might not be honoured.
He also said it “can make sense” for Germany to keep its three remaining nuclear power plants running beyond the planned end-2022 shutdown, a policy about turn that has gained support given the risk of a total Russian gas cutoff in winter.
A senior manager at Kremlin-controlled Gazprom has said the delivery of the turbine after servicing was not in line with the contract and it was sent to Germany without Russia’s consent.
Standing next to Scholz, Siemens Energy CEO Christian Bruch said talks with Gazprom continued but there was no agreement.
Collapsing gas supplies and rocketing prices sparked recession warnings for the German economy, Europe’s largest, and raised fear of energy shortages and rationing going into winter.
After being forced to bail the utility Uniper out when it became an early casualty of the gas crisis, Scholz’s government has to amend newly introduced energy reforms, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Scholz has called for Germans to steel themselves for rising bills. His government has urged them to take steps to use less energy such as taking shorter showers.
“This is now a moment where we have to stand together as a country. But it is also a moment where we can show what we are capable of,” he said.
But he chose not to address questions about his Social Democrat predecessor, former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is criticised increasingly for his pro-Russian views and friendship with President Vladimir Putin.
Schroeder said Russia was ready for a negotiated settlement to end the war in an interview published on Wednesday after he met Putin in Russia last week.
Putin told Schroeder that Nord Stream 2 could provide 27-billion cubic metres of gas to Europe by the end of the year if allowed to operate, said Peskov.
“Putin explained everything in detail, and the former chancellor asked if it was possible to use Nord Stream 2 in a critical situation,” Peskov said. “Putin was not the initiator. Putin did not offer to turn it on, but Putin said that it is technologically possible, and this complex mechanism is ready for instant use.”
Scholz signalled that Nord Stream 2 would not be used as an alternative. “We terminated the approval process for good reason,” Scholz said. “There is sufficient capacity at Nord Stream 1. There is no lack.”
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.