Arshak Makichyan, Russian environmental activist and violinist, plays his violin while two young environmental activists next to him hold banners reading ‘Oil, Gas, Coal = War’ and ‘Stop Fuelling the War and Terror’ in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Germany on May 6, 2022.
“We’re now on alert stage two,” said German Ambassador to Canada Sabine Sparwasser. “People are asked to change heating systems, people are asked to cut down on their consumption. And our energy ministry even said you can cut down on the shower time.”
Last month, Russia reduced the flow of gas through the Nord Stream One pipeline by 60 per cent. Right now, the flow is shut off completely for a maintenance period that ostensibly ends on July 21.
A week ago, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that it would be returning a set of turbines used in the pipeline — which were in Canada for repairs — back to Germany, despite the fact that they fall under sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its brutal war on Ukraine.
In theory, once the Russians get their turbines back, they’ll restore normal gas flow, allowing Germany and other European countries to fill their storage tanks for winter.
Liberal ministers set to testify at committee on decision to release turbines caught in Russia sanctions
Trudeau defends decision to return turbines to Germany for Russian pipeline
Zelenskyy says Moscow will see Canada’s decision to return turbines as ‘weakness’
But German officials admit that’s far from certain.
“In many experts’ opinions, it’s a pretext,” said Sparwasser. “It’s very hard to say what to expect.”
If normal flow doesn’t resume, Germany will have to ration.
“To impose a stage three of a gas emergency would mean that the government would have to take measures and make choices,” said Sparwasser. “Governments would want it to go to private households first. But at the same time, industry is also sort of the backbone of German prosperity and you don’t want industry to suffer significantly.
“So there are a lot of difficult choices and we hope it doesn’t come to that.”
A ‘grievous mistake’
German leaders have admitted that the bind Germany finds itself in is largely self-inflicted. The choice to make the country dependent on Russian energy was a “grievous mistake,” said Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck.
Despite repeated warnings from allies, German politicians forged ahead with their Russian business partners, loading the gun the Kremlin now holds to Germany’s head.
The ruling Social Democrats met this week to consider expelling former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for his role in hooking Germany up to Russia, which won him lucrative seats on the boards of Russian energy companies.
But German politicians also have insisted those mistakes are in the past, and that today the country is doing all it can to free itself from its Russian cage.
“We are building out renewable energy at extraordinary speed,” said Sparwasser. “And Germany is importing LNG (liquid natural gas) as much as we can.
“We are building, and again at extraordinary speed, we will have two LNG ports. We didn’t have any of them at the beginning of this year and we will have two swimming LNG ports on the German coast by the end of the year, hopefully.”
Sparwasser said Germany has asked countries such as the U.S., Norway and Qatar to increase energy deliveries.
But not everyone is convinced that Germany has really pulled out all the stops to break its dependence on Russia.
The counter-offer, rejected
“There are alternatives for Germany to be able to get gas,” said Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian World Congress.
“The gas that they need is very easily accessible through the Ukrainian pipeline, which for some unknown reason they refused to utilize. Instead, they are falling prey to Russia’s blackmail.”
Ukrainian officials did not merely oppose Canada’s decision to waive the sanctions on the Nord Stream turbines. They also offered Canada and Germany an alternative — the Sudzha pipeline that enters Ukraine’s northern Sumy region from Russia and runs to the Czech border.