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What happens to Germany if Russia turns off the gas?

July 14, 2022

The flow of gas supplies from Russia has been interrupted, and there is speculation that it will not fully resume. Germany now has to begin preparing for a hard winter ahead.

Nord Stream 1 terminal at sunrise
The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is currently undergoing its annual inspectionImage: Jens Büttner/dpa/picture alliance

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is using Germany's energy supply as a political weapon. That is what German Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Chancellor Olaf Scholz have repeatedly emphasized. Habeck told broadcaster RTL that he'd "have to be lying" if he said he wasn't afraid of the possible consequences.

Things are slowly getting serious. On Wednesday, Russian energy giant Gazprom announced that it was not certain whether the gas supply from Moscow will still be secure following maintenance work on the Nord Stream pipeline, scheduled to continue until at least July 21.

Officially, Gazprom has justified delivery delays with the fact that an important turbine that was being serviced in Canada has not yet arrived back in their possession. The German government has pushed back on this explanation, saying that if the arrival from Canada is imminent, there could be no reason to curtail gas supplies.

Robert Habeck and Olaf Scholz
Economy Minister Robert Habeck and Chancellor Olaf Scholz are anticipating a permanent drop in Russian gas supplyImage: Jochen Eckel/IMAGO

Recently, only about 40% of the usual volume of gas has been delivered from Russia.

Russian gas is extremely important for the country's energy supply, especially for industry and private households. A good half of the homes in Germany are heated with gas supplied by Russian firms.

Germany's dependence on Russian gas remains high, despite the government having worked hard in recent months to reduce it. The price hikes for gas have been dramatic. Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Network Agency, the government regulator, warned that private customers in Germany should be prepared for their gas costs to triple.

Both people and politicians are on edge and according to surveys, support for the EU sanctions against Russia is also decreasing as more people feel the squeeze of inflation.

Priority treatment for private households?

The Federal Network Agency is responsible for determining who gets what quantities of gas in Germany. Its head, Klaus Müller is a member of the environmentalist Green Party and has always emphasized that private households should be supplied first and foremost.

He told the RND media group that both "German and European law provides for protecting private households" before businesses.

But the Green Party's Economy Minister has recently cast doubt on this, questioning the wisdom of prioritizing private consumers over industry in the case of a complete shutdown of the gas supply.

Habeck's suggestion to reconsider prioritizing industry over personal use, so that the economy doesn't suffer too much damage, has met with fierce criticism from civil society groups.

Verena Bentele president of the social welfare association VdK, told the Funke media group that families with young children, people with disabilities, the elderly, chronically ill people, and those in need of special care are particularly dependent on a secure supply of gas.

Eugen Brysch, head of the German Foundation for Patient Protection, in an interview with the Osnabrücker Zeitung daily argued that it should not be up to one single government minister, to decide on the question of prioritization.

Klaus Müller
Klaus Müller, head of the Federal Network Agency, has warned that gas prices will triple in GermanyImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

Not enough gas in storage

By law, German storage facilities must be 80% full by the first of October and 90% full by the beginning of November. However, it is highly unlikely that reserves will meet those levels. At the moment, they are only about 65% full, which is not enough to secure a consistent supply throughout the winter. Indeed, it is likely that the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, will soon debate who will get the priority for gas deliveries.

Meanwhile, the EU Commission in Brussels is expecting Russia to completely stop gas supplies to Europe before the end of the year. A draft emergency plan, therefore, provides for public and commercial buildings to be heated only to a maximum of 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) from the fall.

This much is already clear: it will be a hard autumn and winter for gas consumers in Europe.

This article was originally written in German.

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Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau