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Major gas pipeline from Russia to Europe restarts after a break for maintenance

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The war in Ukraine is having very real effects on Europe's energy supplies, specifically in Germany, which has figured out that it needs to be able to get oil and natural gas from other places. But in this moment, it is still heavily dependent on Russia.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Which is why it's such a big deal that a key pipeline from Russia to Germany is now back online. The Nord Stream 1 was shut down for 10 days of maintenance work. It was scheduled and expected, but Germans weren't quite sure if Moscow was going to turn it back on again. And there are real concerns that Putin might cut off supplies altogether.

MARTIN: We've got Esme Nicholson with us from Berlin. Hey, Esme.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Russia's state-run gas company, Gazprom, has now turned the taps back on. But I understand it's not at full capacity, right?

NICHOLSON: That's right. Germany's federal grid says that gas is flowing again, as you say, but only at about 30 to 40% capacity at the moment. That could change throughout the course of the day. Now, that is better than no gas at all. But it's still cause for concern here in Germany because Russia had already cut supply to 40% even before maintenance work started. And gas reserves here in Germany are currently too low to get through the winter without rationing. This also applies to the rest of Europe. And yesterday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said quite plainly that Russia is blackmailing Europe and using energy as a weapon.

MARTIN: I mean, considering the current state of affairs between Moscow and the rest of Europe, some were expecting a total stop in supply today. Why has Gazprom turned the taps on at all?

NICHOLSON: That's right, Rachel. And Germany is still worried Russia could cut supply completely. But there are a number of possible reasons why it hasn't done so this morning, the first reason is legal. By turning supply back on even at a reduced rate, it's more difficult for companies here to accuse Gazprom of not fulfilling its contracts. The second reason is financial. Reduced supply keeps gas prices high. And then, of course, there are political reasons. It's possible Moscow will continue to reduce the gas flow, depending on further sanctions. And Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, could also be driving up prices in a bid to undermine public support for Ukraine. Then there's the other pipeline, the one Putin would like to use, the recently completed Nord Stream 2.

MARTIN: Right.

NICHOLSON: This week, he suggested doing just that if Nord Stream 1 runs into what he called technical difficulties. But the EU already sanctioned Nord Stream 2. And reversing that decision would be difficult politically, to say the least.

MARTIN: Right. So as you noted, I mean, Europe already sees Russia using energy as a weapon to retaliate against EU sanctions over the war in Ukraine. So what do they do about it? I mean, if they live with this constant threat from Russia turning off the energy supplies, how are they going to change that dynamic?

NICHOLSON: It's a tough call. And it's not easy. If Moscow shuts off the supply, Germany will have to start rationing gas over the winter. And hospitals and households would be the last consumers to be rationed. But Germany's industry is putting pressure on the government to prioritize its needs. There's been political outcry over this. But industry bosses argue that a cut in their gas supply could prompt one of the worst recessions Germany has ever seen. And if people lose their jobs, they won't be able to afford to heat their apartments anyway. So the government is scrambling to diversify sources. Finally, it's not only Germany that will need to ration. The EU is appealing to all member states to cut gas consumption by up to 15% this winter.

MARTIN: Reporter Esme Nicholson in Berlin, we appreciate your reporting. Thanks, Esme.

NICHOLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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