Have we reached the endgame of Vladimir Putin’s energy war against the West, the point at which he turns off the gas for good? This afternoon, Gazprom announced that from Wednesday morning it will cut the quantity of gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany to 33 cubic metres per day. This will halve the current flow of 67 million cubic metres and is just 20 per cent of the 167 million cubic metres which flowed through the pipeline before the Ukraine invasion.
Ostensibly, the cut is for reasons of ‘maintenance’. That is unlikely to wash. Nord Stream 1 relies on a compressor station powered by six turbines, but Russia was supplied with two spare turbines to prevent any need for reduction in flows during maintenance periods. One of the turbines has just been returned to Russia after servicing in Canada.
The latest cut will not just further damage a German economy which is on the brink of recession (Olaf Scholz's government has previously intimated that the country’s famous car factories may have to close if gas supplies are short). It will also have a knock-on effect all over Europe, sending prices skywards once more.
It is another serious embarrassment for the Scholz administration. Slow to impose sanctions against Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion, Germany did later announce plans to wean itself off Russian gas and oil, with Russian gas planned to make up no more than 10 per cent of total demand by the middle of 2024.
Germany looks rudderless, because it is now Putin who is setting the timetable. At the current rate it looks unlikely that in two years’ time there will be any Russian gas left for Germany to boycott. Europe, and especially Germany, is not merely heading for economic turmoil as a result of energy starvation. Putin is managing to make Europe look politically powerless.