Standing before a hulking metal turbine that normally propels natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany rejected Russia’s contention that technical problems were behind the sharp curtailment in gas flows to Germany.
He said the only reason the machine had not yet been returned to Russia after undergoing maintenance work is that Gazprom, Russia’s state energy giant, did not want it back.
The turbine, which is at the heart of a dispute between Germany and Gazprom, was on display Wednesday at a news event in the western city of Mülheim an der Ruhr, where it has been stored since it was returned from refurbishment in Canada.
Gazprom and Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president, have blamed Siemens Energy, the turbine’s manufacturer, for delays returning it to Russia. They have repeatedly cited the need for “required documents and clarifications,” and said that its absence was the reason it slashed gas flows to 20 percent of capacity.
After weeks of releasing only terse responses, the German side seemed intent on calling the bluff of Gazprom and Mr. Putin.
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“It is obvious that nothing, nothing at all stands in the way of the further transport of this turbine and its installation in Russia. It can be transported and used at any time,” Mr. Scholz told reporters. “There is no technical reason whatsoever for the reduction of gas supplies.”
European officials say Russia is cutting back its gas deliveries to punish Europe for its opposition to the war in Ukraine. In mid-June, Gazprom cut back the amount of gas it was delivering to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to only 40 percent of possible capacity. Last week, it reduced the amount again by half.
Germany still relies on Russia to meet about a third of its natural gas needs, down from more than half before the start of the war, but still enough to leave the country reeling from the cuts. It is scrambling to store up enough of the fuel before demand rises in winter, in hopes of staving off rationing and shutdowns of key industries if Russia were to cut off supplies entirely.
Gas storage facilities in Germany were 69 percent full as of Wednesday, but officials told companies and citizens to begin reducing their energy usage as much as possible while the weather was still warm. Nearly half of all homes in Germany are heated with gas, and households, along with essential infrastructure such as hospitals and rescue services, will be prioritized in the event of shortages.
Mr. Putin has suggested that Germany could solve its gas problem by opening the second pipeline that was mothballed days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Nord Stream 2.
That proposal was echoed by Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor who remains close to Mr. Putin despite being outcast by his own political party, the Social Democrats, and many Germans. In an interview with the German newsweekly Stern, Mr. Schröder, who met with the Russian president in Moscow last week, also said the Kremlin was open to talks to end the war, on condition that Ukraine surrender its claim to Crimea — which Russia annexed in 2014 — as well as its aspirations to join NATO.
Asked about the prospect of restarting Nord Stream 2, Mr. Scholz stifled a laugh, pointing out that its twin pipeline running under the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 1, was already being underused, as were other overland links through Ukraine, as well as one through Belarus and Poland — that Russia had sanctioned.
“There’s enough capacity with Nord Stream 1,” he said. “All the contracts that Russia has concluded for the whole of Europe can be fulfilled with the help of this pipeline.”
The reduced flows of natural gas have caused prices in Europe to jump to record highs. On Wednesday they remained about double what they were in mid-June, when Russia began restricting flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Christian Bruch, the head of Siemens Energy, who appeared with Mr. Scholz, said his company was in regular talks with Gazprom over the issue of the turbine and it was eager to return it so that other Siemens turbines used in the pipeline could also be taken for maintenance.
But the Russian company has a “different view” of the situation, he said, without elaborating.
“This turbine is ready to go immediately,” Mr. Scholz said. “If Russia does not take up this turbine now, it shows the whole world that not taking it is just an excuse to reduce gas supplies to Germany.”
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