Germany moves towards gas rationing

BERLIN — Germany began preparing for possible natural gas shortages on Wednesday, as the country’s economy minister expressed growing concern that Russia could cut off deliveries to unless payments on existing contracts are made in rubles.

The government has activated the first stage of a national gas emergency plan which could eventually lead to the rationing of natural gas. Wednesday’s action – the first step, or “early warning stage” – is to set up a crisis team made up of representatives from federal and state governments, regulators and private industry, Robert said. Habeck, Minister of Economy and Vice-Chancellor.

The move illustrates the risk facing European countries dependent on Russian oil and gas as the war in Ukraine drags on. On Monday, energy ministers from the Group of 7 nations rejected a Russian demand that the country be paid for its ruble supplies. Several European energy companies said paying in rubles would require renegotiating long-term contracts.

“We will not accept any violation of private contracts,” Mr. Habeck said.

The ongoing standoff is part of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s attempts to push back against a wide range of economic sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for invading neighboring Ukraine.

“We need to increase precautionary measures to prepare for an escalation from Russia,” Habeck told reporters. “With the declaration of the early warning level, a crisis team came together.”

The team will meet daily to monitor the situation and establish what action could be taken if supplies start to run out, which Habeck stressed is not yet the case. Only if the situation was bad enough would the government step in to start rationing the supply of natural gas. In this case, according to a planning document, households and critical public services, including hospitals and emergency services, would be prioritized over industry.

About half of Germany homes depend on natural gas for heating and 55% of the country’s gas comes from Russia. It arrives via overland pipelines through Ukraine and Poland and via the original Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea. A sister pipeline awaiting German approval, Nord Stream 2, was effectively frozen by the government two days before Russian tanks arrived in Ukraine.

“Security of supply continues to be guaranteed,” Habeck said. “There are currently no supply bottlenecks. Nevertheless, we need to increase precautionary measures to prepare for an escalation from Russia.

Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, said on Wednesday it had continued to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with European consumer demands and flows remained high. Gas was also flowing west via a pipeline that crosses Poland from Russia for the first time since March 15, he added.

Poland has put pressure on its partners in the European Union to end their dependence on Russian energy as soon as possible. The Warsaw government has a gas pipeline linking the country to Norway which should open by the end of the year, and liquefied natural gas capacities would be increased. The country also announced that it would stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year.

In Athens, the Greek Energy Ministry convened an emergency meeting of all gas market players in the country to discuss alternative natural gas supply options in the event of an interruption in Russian gas supply. , the ministry said.

Moscow has not said when demands for ruble payments will begin, but it is expected to outline its plans later this week. But at a press conference on Wednesday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said things might not move as quickly as some in Europe feared.

“Payments and deliveries take a while,” Peskov said. “That doesn’t mean that everything delivered tomorrow has to be paid for in the evening. It is a process that stretches over time. »

Russia’s top lawmaker warned on Wednesday that exports of oil, grain, metals, fertilizers, coal and timber could soon be priced the same.

Mr Habeck also urged German consumers and businesses to start making efforts to reduce their energy consumption wherever possible. “Every kilowatt hour counts,” he said.

Ivan Nechepurenko and Niki Kitsantonis contributed report.

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