The restart avoids – at least for now – what officials had described as a “nightmare scenario” for Europe’s biggest economy, with impact across the continent and around the world.
But German officials argued there was no reason the flow could not return to full capacity. And they accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using gas as leverage against Western countries backing Ukraine, keeping Europe in a state of continued uncertainty.
Despite a rush to diversify, Germany depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supply and on France for around a fifth.
Germany must be prepared for a future reduction in gas flows, Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said on Thursday.
“Putin aims to shake us up, drive up prices, divide society and weaken support for Ukraine,” he said.
“We are not bowing to this and countering it with concentrated and consistent action,” he added, unveiling a new set of energy-saving measures. “We are taking precautions to get through the winter.”
These include plans to make up for gas shortages by burning more lignite, known as ‘lignite’, one of the most environmentally damaging ways to generate energy.
At 40%, the level of gas in the Nord Stream pipeline on Thursday morning had returned to the level it was when Russia’s state energy company Gazprom cut supply in June, citing equipment problems.
Given the ‘missing’ 60% and ongoing political instability, there is ‘no reason to give the go-ahead’ tweeted Klaus Müllerhead of the German energy regulator, the Federal Network Agency.
“Does it apply to tomorrow, does it apply to the day after tomorrow?” he said of the gas flow in additional comments on German television. “After President Putin’s statements, you have to have doubts.”
Although Putin has said he will ensure supplies for Europe, he warned on Wednesday that equipment problems could contribute to future disruptions. A pumping unit is out of service due to a “ruined” interior lining, he told reporters, according to Reuters, adding that another turbine was due to be sent for repair next week.
The Russian leader is “the opposite of a guarantor of energy security”, Habeck said. “It’s obviously a Putin strategy to use energy as a political pawn.”
As it cut its supplies, Gazprom sought to invoke “force majeure” – a legal provision used to release part of its contractual commitments in the event of extreme events such as war, storms or fires.
With prices high and gas storage levels relatively low, the European Commission on Wednesday urged European Union countries to reduce their winter gas consumption by 15%.
Germany, one of the most exposed countries due to its dependence on Russian energy, is already in the second phase of a gas crisis plan.
German consumers are urged to save energy by all means, including taking cold showers and turning off lights. Hot water has been cut off in municipal buildings and fountains are standing still. Some homeowners have said they might turn the heat down this winter.
The government’s hope is that it won’t have to take the last drastic step in its contingency planning: market intervention to cut off gas supplies to certain industries. Officials have been scrambling to boost the country’s gas storage ahead of winter and announced new targets on Thursday: to have stocks at 75% capacity by September 1 and 95% by September 1. november.
The new energy-saving measures include a mandate for businesses to immediately introduce economically feasible ways to reduce usage. Where possible, companies should organize block holidays for employees so that offices can be closed. Remote work is also encouraged, Habeck said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of “blackmail” when she unveiled the EU-wide rationing proposal on Wednesday. Whether it’s a partial or major gas cut, she said, “Europe must be ready”.
Although uncertainty remains, some analysts doubt Putin will cut supplies completely. “From an economic point of view, Russia needs money,” said Claudia Kemfert, head of energy, transport and the environment at the German Institute for Economic Research. “Moreover, they want to control the market and do what they can to put pressure on Germany and Europe. If there’s no gas, they can’t do it.
Germany tried to eliminate any excuses Russia could use to cut off supplies. Earlier this month, he urged Canada to circumvent its own sanctions to return a turbine for the Nord Stream pipeline that was stuck in Montreal, so Moscow could not use it as an excuse to stop gas flowing.