BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz inspected a turbine at the center of a natural gas dispute and declared Wednesday that “there are no problems” blocking the part's return to Russia besides missing information from Russia’s state-controlled gas company.
The Kremlin insisted more assurances were needed.
Russian energy giant Gazprom last week halved the amount of natural gas flowing through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% of capacity, the latest reduction it blamed on delays to the turbine's delivery due to Western sanctions.
German partner Siemens Energy sent the turbine to Canada for overhaul, which was a routine process before Russia invaded Ukraine and was subjected to Western sanctions.
The German government says the turbine was meant to be installed in September and wasn't needed to make the pipeline function now; it says Moscow is using spurious technical explanations as cover for a political move to create uncertainty and to push up gas prices.
The turbine is now stored at a Siemens Energy facility in Mulheim an der Ruhr, in western Germany.
“This turbine is usable any time,” Scholz said, standing next to the 18-ton piece of machinery. “There is nothing standing in the way of its transport on to Russia — other than that the Russian recipients have to say that they want to have the turbine, and give the necessary information for the customs transport to Russia."
“All other permits are there — that goes for the permit from Germany, the permit from the European Union, from the United Kingdom, from Canada,” the chancellor added. "There are no problems.”
Gazprom’s repeated reductions of gas deliveries to various countries have raised fears that Russia may cut off supplies altogether to try to gain political leverage over Europe.
German officials say Gazprom needs to specify where exactly the turbine needs to be sent. Scholz said he was checking out the turbine publicly to “demystify” it.
The chancellor reiterated Germany's insistence that “there are no technical reasons for the reduction of gas deliveries through Nord Stream 1.”
He said sanctions don't apply to the gas used to power industry, heat homes and generate electricity.
Gazprom has repeatedly said it pressed Siemens Energy for documents and clarification. The company specifically wants documents from Siemens Energy proving that the turbine isn't subject to Western sanctions, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“We need to be sure that it’s not under sanctions. We need to be sure that Siemens’ British subsidiary in charge of it won’t switch it off remotely in the future as part of sanctions,” Peskov told reporters during a conference call.
Peskov said former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder asked Russian President Vladimir Putin during a recent meeting in Moscow if the completed but not-yet-functioning Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be put into service in an emergency to meet Europe's energy needs.
Scholz’s government suspended the certification process for the new pipeline in February just before the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin said Nord Stream 2 could start operating but only at half-capacity because Gazprom is now using the other half for Russia's domestic market, Peskov said.
Schroeder’s longstanding ties to the Russian energy sector — including the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines — and refusal to distance himself personally from Putin after the invasion of Ukraine have left his political standing at home in tatters.
In an interview with Stern magazine and RTL television that appeared Wednesday, Schroeder argued that using Nord Stream 2 would be the “simplest solution” in case of gas shortages.
Turning to Nord Stream 2 is a political non-starter for Scholz, who said that “we ended the approval process for good reason.” He added that “there is enough capacity in Nord Stream 1," and that two other pipelines — one running through Ukraine and another through Belarus and Poland — are also available.
Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.
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