Russia’s Gazprom finally acted on weeks of threats and hints overnight, reducing the already reduced gas flow through the Nord Stream One gas pipeline to just 20% of its full capacity.
The move has raised new concerns in Germany, Italy and other European countries that rely heavily on Russian gas flowing from Vyborg, Russia to Germany’s Baltic coast.
But it also raised new questions for the Government of Canada – which issued a controversial sanctions waiver that was supposed to allow Gazprom to restore normal flow to Europe, which had been cut by around 60% since June.
As of 3 a.m. ET today, the flow is reduced by 80% – a rate that makes it virtually impossible for European countries that depend on Russian gas to fill their underground storage tanks for the winter.
The Kremlin, which controls Gazprom, is playing with Europe’s gas supply in an effort to weaken sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia argued that technical problems caused by the sanctions were hampering normal deliveries.
The conflict of the turbines
At the center of these arguments are half a dozen Siemens gas turbines that compress and propel gas through the undersea pipeline. These pipelines are normally removed from service on a regular, rotating schedule and refurbished at Siemens Energy Canada’s Montreal shops.
But when Canada sanctioned the Russian oil and gas sector, Siemens Energy could not ship one of the turbines back to Russia via Germany.
Russia has warned it will reduce throughput unless it recovers its turbine. The government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has asked Canada to make an exception to its sanctions regime to allow the return of the turbine.
“We were certainly under pressure from Germany and the European Union, and on the other side we were under pressure from the Ukrainian government,” Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC News on Monday. July 11, a day after his government granted a “temporary” and “revocable” sanctions waiver to allow the turbine to return.
The Trudeau government’s decision was harshly criticized by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and by Ukrainian diaspora organizations in Canada.
Call the Kremlin bluff
No one can claim the flow cuts came as a surprise to the German or Canadian governments – both of whom have insisted they weren’t naïve about Russia’s intentions.
Wilkinson told CBC News after granting the waiver that his government was well aware that Russia was using the turbine as a pretext and might not restore full flow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “has said very publicly that if the turbines are not brought back, it would be our fault if Germany lost access to Russian gas,” the minister said.
“That doesn’t mean Putin can’t shut it down on his own. But it’s quite a different circumstance than he can say it was because of Canada’s unwillingness to help our friends in Germany. .”
WATCH: Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says lifting sanctions ‘is not a gamble’
German leaders said their country was determined to call Putin’s bluff on the turbine, knowing full well he could still manipulate the flow based on political calculations.
“We are delivering now in order to prevent Russia from having the excuse that we are basically inflicting harm on ourselves,” Sabine Sparwasser, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, told CBC News.
“In the opinion of many experts, it is a pretext, but we remove this pretext. We deliver the turbine and then we will see if there is militarization of the energy by stopping the delivery or not.”
Now that Germany and Canada have the answer to this question, it raises another one. What does all this mean for future turbine deliveries and the continuation of the sanctions waiver – which is, after all, “temporary and revocable”?
In its current form, the exemption would last two years and allow many wind turbines to circulate across Canada.
The exact location of the turbine already returned under the sanctions waiver is unclear. Russian media reported on July 18 that he was en route from Germany to Russia’s Portovaya compressor station.
On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he still had not reached Russia. “We hope it will happen… as soon as possible,” he said.
“The situation is extremely complicated by the restrictions and sanctions that have been imposed on our country.”
But Siemens Energy told CBC News the only obstacle to the turbine’s entry into Russia was the failure of the Russian government to provide an import permit.
“The German authorities provided Siemens Energy with all the necessary documents for the export of the turbine to Russia at the beginning of last week. Gazprom is aware of this,” a Siemens spokesman said. “What is missing, however, are the customs documents for importing into Russia. Gazprom, as a customer, is required to provide them.”
CBC News has asked Global Affairs and Natural Resources Canada whether it intends to uphold or revoke the waiver and is awaiting a response.