German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has attempted to facilitate the return to Russia of an overhauled turbine needed to boost gas supplies to Europe via the subsea Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
The gas-fired turbine has been stuck in Germany for almost two weeks since it was airlifted from Canada, where it had undergone necessary maintenance.
Scholz and other German officials have suggested Nord Stream operator Gazprom is deliberately delaying delivery of the equipment to suppress natural gas deliveries to Europe.
On Wednesday, Scholz visited the facilities of the unit’s manufacturer, Siemens Energy, in the German town of Mulheim An Der Ruhr.
“The turbine works,” Scholz said during the factory tour, according to reports.
He added that the goal of his visit was to show the world that the turbine is functional and “there was nothing mystical to observe here”.
“It’s quite clear and simple: the turbine is there and can be delivered, but someone needs to say, ‘I want to have it’,” he said.
In a televised interview last Friday in Moscow, Gazprom deputy executive chairman Vitaly Markelov offered a rambling explanation as to why the Russian gas giant is unable to expedite the return of the turbine to the Portovaya gas pumping station on Russia’s Baltic Sea coast, where gas is fed into Nord Stream 1.
Markelov said that under its contract with Siemens’ UK affiliate Industrial Turbine Company, the turbine should have been transported directly to Russia from Canada without being offloaded in Germany.
He added that Gazprom remains cautious about sanctions that could apply if the company takes the unit.
Gazprom said in a short statement released after the Scholz' visit that Canada's, European and US sanctions, coupled with the "violations of contractual terms with Siemens", have made "impossible the delivery" of the turbine.
Just one out of eight gas compressors at Portovaya remains in operation, according to Markelov. If the recently refurbished unit is returned and installed, current gas flows to Germany could double to around 66 million cubic metres per day.
Siemens Energy chief executive Christian Bruch confirmed that there were ongoing talks with Gazprom on the shipment of the unit but no agreement has been reached, according to Reuters.
Nord Stream 2 back from shadow
Most political observers have considered Gazprom’s reluctance to take the turbine as an attempt from the Kremlin to kick-start the Gazprom-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was completed last year before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but sanctioned before it began operation.
Former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, was spotted last week in Moscow. The purpose of his visit was not disclosed by the Kremlin, but Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, said that Putin told Schroeder Nord Stream 2 could deliver 27 billion cubic metres of gas to Europe by the end of the year if allowed to operate.
“Putin explained everything in detail, and the former chancellor asked if it was possible to use Nord Stream 2 in a critical situation,” Peskov said, apparently referring to the upcoming European winter.
“Putin was not the initiator. Putin did not offer to turn it on, but he said that it is technologically possible, and this complex mechanism is ready for instant use,” Peskov added.
However, authorities in Kjiv have reiterated that Gazprom has an option to significantly boost gas transit supplies to Europe via Ukraine’s pipeline network if they have issues with both of the Nord Stream pipelines.
Sergey Makogon, executive director of Ukraine’s gas transmission authority Operator GTS Ukrainy, confirmed to Upstream that the country’s network is fully ready to transport significantly higher volumes of Russian gas despite the ongoing military confrontation.
“We can switch to [shipping] 244 MMcmd of [Russian] gas to Europe tomorrow if needed,” he said.
Gazprom has been keeping transit gas flows across Ukraine at just about 41 MMcmd for almost three months, despite a contractual minimal level of 110 MMcmd.
* This story has been amended to include a statement from Gazprom.
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