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France blames Russia for gas supply as Nord Stream shutdown looms

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PARIS – France on Tuesday accused Moscow of using energy supply as a “weapon of war” after Russian company Gazprom cut deliveries to a major French customer and announced the closure of its main gas pipeline to Germany for three days this week.

European governments are trying to coordinate a response to rising energy costs for businesses and households and to fill storage facilities before peak winter demand.

Western countries fear Moscow is deliberately raising gas prices to try to weaken its opposition to the Ukraine invasion, a tactic that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday called “economic terrorism.” Moscow denies the accusation.

Nord Stream 1, Russia’s main gas pipeline to Europe, has become a flashpoint in the dispute. Europe faces a further cut in supplies this week as Gazprom will shut down the pipeline for maintenance from Wednesday until early Saturday morning.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said technological problems caused by Western sanctions on Russia are the only thing preventing gas supplies through Nord Stream 1.

However, the French Minister for Energy Transition, Agnes Pannier-Runacher, stated that “it is clear that Russia is using gas as a weapon of war and we must prepare for the worst case scenario, that of a total interruption of supplies.”

The minister spoke to France Inter radio after French company Engie said it will receive less gas from Gazprom from Tuesday due to an unspecified contract dispute.

Russia has been pumping gas through Nord Stream 1 at only 20% capacity and there are fears this week’s outage could be prolonged.

Asked if there are any guarantees that Gazprom will resume the flow of gas through Nord Stream 1, Peskov replied: “There are guarantees that, apart from technological problems caused by sanctions, nothing will hamper supplies.”

EU energy ministers will hold an emergency meeting on September 9 to discuss the crisis.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, is open to discussing a plan to cap gas supply prices at the European level, a source in Italy said, citing a text message the German economy minister sent to colleagues around the world. the block.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has pushed for a price cap and has also called for the cost of electricity to be decoupled from the price of gas. This measure would allow European households to benefit from electricity produced from cheaper sources, such as renewables.

The chief executive of German energy company Wintershall Dea said on Tuesday that current price levels mean demand for gas will fall in the long term.

“The prices we currently have are insane. It’s not something that even a gas producer is looking for, because in the end we are going to massively destroy the demand for our product,” Mario Mehren told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Norway.

Benchmark wholesale Dutch gas prices rose on Tuesday afternoon after an initial pullback. The gas contract for the first month rose 1.5% to 271 euros/MWh, below last week’s record highs but still at levels more than five times higher than a year ago.

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