Germany accuses Russia of 'blackmail' over pipeline shutdown; Putin denies doing so

Gazprom's decision not to reactivate Nord Stream after last week's maintenance has raised the prospect of gas rationing this winter. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN - Chancellor Olaf Scholz accused Russia of seeking to blackmail Germany and its European partners by shutting off gas deliveries and dismissed an apparent leak in a key pipeline as "pretense."

"Russia could deliver if it wanted to," Scholz said Wednesday, according to prepared remarks for a speech to parliament in Berlin.

Gazprom simply needs to request a turbine for the Nord Stream 1 link that is in western Germany and ready for use after repairs, he added.

"Russia does not want to deliver," Scholz said, according to the text of his speech. "Because it wants to blackmail us and our European neighbors with missing deliveries and high gas prices and drive us apart."

In his actual address, Scholz did not deliver the remarks on gas deliveries, instead spending a large part of his speech responding belligerently to criticism from Friedrich Merz, the leader of the main opposition conservatives, who spoke immediately before the chancellor.

Speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia's Pacific port city of Vladivostok, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday denied that Moscow was using energy as a "weapon".

"They say that Russia uses energy as a weapon. More nonsense! What weapon do we use? We supply as much as required according to requests" from importers," Putin told the Eastern Economic Forum in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

Russian gas giant Gazprom said Friday that the Nord Stream pipeline due to reopen at the weekend after three days of maintenance would remain shut for repairs.

The Kremlin says sanctions have blocked the return of a Siemens turbine that had been undergoing repairs in Canada.

"Give as a turbine, we will turn Nord Stream on tomorrow, Putin said. "We are ready to do this tomorrow, just need to press a button. But we were not the ones who introduced sanctions," Putin added.

Germany has been racing to fill gas storage facilities to prepare for the winter, but Gazprom's decision not to reactivate Nord Stream after last week's maintenance has raised the prospect of gas rationing this winter.

"We have to make ourselves independent of such an unreliable supplier as quickly as possible," Scholz said, according to the speech text. "This is needed for the security, independence and sovereignty of our country."

In the text of his wide-ranging speech to Bundestag lawmakers, Scholz pledged that his ruling coalition will do all it can to hold the country together during a coming "winter of challenges" while acknowledging that no government can "mitigate every hardship."

Soaring energy costs and historically high inflation are hammering households and companies and Scholz reiterated a pledge that no citizen will be left to cope alone.

The ruling alliance agreed at the weekend on a third package of aid measures worth 65 billion euros (S$90.6 billion), taking the total amount of assistance to almost 100 billion euros.

It includes higher subsidies for lower-income households and cash payments to students and pensioners.

The government has also thrown its weight behind a European Union effort to tax so-called "windfall profits," as surging earnings at some energy firms fuel public outrage.

"We will skim off these billions of dollars in chance profits," Scholz said. "In this way, we gain scope to massively relieve the burden on citizens when it comes to electricity prices."

Germany is in "intensive talks" with EU partners about implementing a cap on electricity prices, Scholz added.

"However, we are also prepared to take action at national level first, because we want to relieve the burden on citizens very quickly," he said.


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