German officials accuse Russia of using the gas as a “war strategy” while Moscow blames sanctions for the limited supply.
Russian energy giant Gazprom has drastically reduced its gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline at about 20% capacity, German authorities said.
The Russian state-owned company had announced on Monday that it would reduce supplies to 33 million cubic meters per day, half the amount delivered since the resumption of service last week after 10 days of maintenance work.
EU states have accused Russia of cutting supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Gazprom cited the shutdown of one of the pipeline’s last two operating turbines due to “the technical condition of the engine”.
Germany’s economy ministry dismissed the explanation, saying there was “no technical reason for a reduction in deliveries”. Government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann spoke on Wednesday of a “power play” by Moscow.
“The Federal Government has taken note of the further reduction in gas supplies by Gazprom and is monitoring the situation very closely. Supply contracts are not being honored at this time,” she added.
Klaus Mueller, head of Germany’s energy regulator, said on Wednesday gas flows had fallen to 20% of pipeline capacity from 40%.
“We will see today if it stays that way,” he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Italian energy giant Eni said Gazprom had informed the group it would only deliver “about 27 million cubic meters” on Wednesday, down from about 34 million cubic meters in recent days.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed EU sanctions for the limited supply.
“Technical pumping capacities are down, more restricted. Why? Because the process of maintaining technical devices is made extremely difficult by the sanctions adopted by Europe,” Peskov said.
Mueller said gas supply has become part of Russian foreign policy and possibly part of Moscow’s “war strategy”.
Natural gas prices have jumped on the European benchmark TTF to levels not seen since early March and are almost six times higher than they were a year ago.
Soaring energy prices are fueling record inflation, squeezing people’s purchasing power and heightening fears that Europe is plunging in recession if it doesn’t save enough gas to get through the cold months.
Mueller praised consumers and industry for voluntarily reducing their energy use, saying that even by correcting for hotter summer temperatures, recent consumption had been reduced by 5-7%.
He said this would allow Germany to increase its gas reserves, which currently stand at around 65% of capacity. Economy Minister Robert Habeck set targets last week for shares to hit 95% by November 1 before the cold German winter.
The European Union agreed on Tuesday on a plan to reduce gas consumption in solidarity with Germany, Europe’s largest economy. Berlin took a major share of the 40% of EU gas imports from Russia last year.