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Russia shuts down natural gas flow to Europe

Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline are pictured in Lubmin, Germany, on March 8, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia's energy giant Gazprom has suspended gas deliveries to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, raising fears of a recession and energy rationing in one of the continent's richest countries this winter.

Gazprom began shutting off natural gas flows through the largest single pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany on Wednesday, saying the shutdown was needed to perform maintenance on the pipeline's only remaining compressor.

The outage for maintenance is expected to last three days, from August 31 to September 2. Data from entry points linking Nord Stream 1 to the German gas network via the Baltic Sea confirmed flows fell to zero early on Wednesday.

Gazprom initially curtailed its gas supply to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 40 percent in June. Then, it drastically cut the deliveries through the pipeline to about 20 percent of its capacity in July.

Further restrictions to European gas supplies would heighten an energy crunch that has already sent wholesale gas prices soaring by over 400% since last August, creating a painful cost-of-living crisis for consumers and businesses and forcing governments to spend billions to ease the burden.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline was shut down for an annual maintenance from July 11 to 21. That work was carried out by Operator Nord Stream AG not Gazprom. Unlike the previous maintenance, the upcoming work was announced less than two weeks in advance and is focused on the last operating turbine at the station.

Europe fears that Moscow may extend the latest outage in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on it following its military offensive on Ukraine.

While the EU has accused Russia of cutting supplies in retaliation for the sanctions, Moscow has insisted that the sanctions have made the technical maintenance of the pipeline very difficult for the Russian company.

Gazprom has emphasized that the delayed return of the turbine from Canada, where the unit was being serviced, was behind the initial reduction in gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline in June.

The company has also suspended gas deliveries to Bulgaria, Finland, Poland, Denmark, and the Netherlands on the grounds that they refuse to pay in rubles. 

The reduced flows via Nord Stream have complicated efforts across Europe to fill up vital gas storage facilities, a key strategic goal to make it through the winter months, when governments fear Russia may halt flows altogether.

The reductions have prompted the EU to now strive to boost gas imports from elsewhere, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Norway, Qatar, and the United States.

However, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said cutting dependence on Russian energy is not something that can be achieved overnight.

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