BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - Germany's Vice-Chancellor has made a public plea to the Canadian government to release a turbine that's caught up in sanctions against Russia and critical for gas flows to Europe.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck told Bloomberg that the turbine for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline needs to be returned before maintenance work begins on Monday (July 11).
Releasing the component would remove an excuse for Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep the conduit closed.
"I'll be the first one who will fight for a further strong EU sanction package, but strong sanctions means it must hurt and harm Russia and Putin more than it does our economy," Mr Habeck said in a phone interview late on Wednesday.
"Therefore, I ask for understanding that we have to take this turbine excuse away from Putin."
Germany is facing the prospect of rationing energy in the coming months, which could hit businesses and consumers and drag Europe's largest economy into recession.
Officials have warned that Russia could shut Nord Stream long term after the two-week maintenance period on Russia's biggest gas link to Europe.
Flows were already slashed by 60 per cent in June over the turbine issue, hampering Germany's efforts to store sufficient supplies for the winter.
"We need capacities in Nord Stream 1 to fill up our storage," said Mr Habeck.
"Filled storage capacities in Germany are not only important for the German market, but as well for the European market and for the security of supply in Europe."
The turbine, built in Canada by Siemens Energy AG, was sent to Montreal for repairs but became stranded due to sanctions on Russia's oil and gas industry announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government last month.
Acknowledging the legal bind created by the Canadian sanctions, the Vice-Chancellor proposed a workaround.
"If it's a legal question for Canada, I want to make clear that I'm not asking them to deliver it to Russia, but to bring it to Germany," Mr Habeck said.
"It is with a heavy heart that we had to ask for this."
The unusual public appeal came two days after Chancellor Olaf Scholz held a call with Mr Trudeau on European energy security, and a week after the Prime Minister was in Germany for a Group of Seven (G-7) leaders summit, which focused in large part on fallout from Mr Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
Canadian officials were non-committal when asked about Germany's plea for help on the sanctioned turbine.
"We will not stop imposing severe costs on the Putin regime while their unjustifiable invasion is ongoing," Mr Ian Cameron, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, said by e-mail.
"We will continue to support our European friends and allies by working to help stabilise energy markets and to develop long-term and sustainable solutions on energy supplies."
Mr Habeck said Mr Putin may exploit the turbine issue to threaten Germany's gas supply despite the fact the pipeline can still operate.
He said he believes state-run Russian gas giant Gazprom PJSC, which operates the pipeline, has another working turbine it could use in the meantime.
"We shouldn't make the mistake that we believe Putin's propaganda," Mr Habeck said.
Returning the equipment before the scheduled shutdown might not resolve the issue, but it would undermine one of Mr Putin's potential arguments for keeping the pipeline closed afterwards, he added.
"If we want to take this road of excuses away from him, I'm calling on the Canadian government not to wait too long and make the decision before the maintenance period starts," Mr Habeck said.
"Otherwise I'm quite sure that Putin will find a political problem in the pipeline."
Europe is facing its biggest energy crisis in decades, with prime supplier Russia curbing gas shipments in retaliation over sanctions and Europe's military support for Ukraine.
Germany is rushing through legislation this week that allows it to rescue struggling firms in an effort to limit the effects of a supply crunch and surging energy costs for consumers.
Soon after the Siemens turbine was stranded last month, Gazprom slashed flows through Nord Stream.
The summer is a critical time to replenish reserves needed to heat homes and run factories over the winter.
The country is targeting 90 per cent capacity by Nov 1. The level stood at 62.6 per cent on Wednesday.
Other turbines are still in Russia, but Gazprom has said not all of them are working.
The energy giant cited orders from the state safety regulator to stop using equipment that's due for regular maintenance.
Mr Habeck said he understands why sending the pipeline back could be politically controversial for Mr Trudeau's government, citing the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada - the largest in the world outside of Russia.
"I know that they are carefully thinking through the situation and I completely understand the situation they have to balance," he said, declining to express frustration with Canada's delay in making a decision on the turbine.
Mr Habeck instead cited Germany's past policy mistakes and his personal duty as a Cabinet minister in explaining his plea for Mr Trudeau's assistance.
"It's part of the oath I have given to the German people" to ensure energy security, he said.
"It was a grievous mistake that Germany was so dependent on one country with the energy supply, and this country is Russia."