German Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck triggered the early warning level for gas supplies on Wednesday as Moscow continues to demand payment in rubles.
This decision is the first of three alert levels and involves the creation of a crisis team in his office to deal with the stability of the country’s gas supply. German gas storage is currently filled to around 25% capacity, Habeck said.
“There is currently no shortage of supply,” he explained. “Nevertheless, we need to increase precautionary measures in order to be prepared in case of an escalation from Russia.”
Habeck called on businesses and individuals to try to reduce their energy consumption as much as possible as Germany tries to wean itself off dependence on Russian gas.
The three-step emergency plan details ways to save gas, secure supply and ensure households have sufficient quantities of fuel.
Meanwhile, Austria announced it was activating its emergency early warning phase over Russian gas supplies in light of Moscow’s demand for ruble payment.
Putin asks “unfriendly” states to pay in rubles
Last week, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would supply gas to Germany and other ‘hostile states’ only for payment in rubles, a move likely to prop up the currency which has fallen due to sanctions Western countries following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. .
Western countries have said they will not comply with Russia’s request.
Moscow reiterated on Tuesday that it would only accept payment in rubles for gas deliveries to the European Union.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that demanding payment for energy exports in rubles rather than dollars or euros was not a breach of contract.
It’s just that Russia is adapting to unprecedented pressure, TASS news agency said.
Ryabkov said he expected Russia and the European Union to reach an agreement over their differences in the coming days, TASS reported.
EU says it has prepared for possible Russian gas supply disruptions
Following Habeck’s announcement, the European Commission said it was prepared for possible disruptions in gas supplies from Russia.
“As a commission, we have been preparing for a very long time,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told a news conference.
“We will of course work closely with member states to ensure that everyone is ready to deal with all kinds of situations,” he said.
Timmermans did not give further details.
How German industry reacted
Representatives of German industry reacted positively to the announcement of the alert.
The energy and water industry’s umbrella association BDEW said it was an important step given the imminent threat of a gas supply disruption.
“Although there is currently no gas shortage, all parties involved must have a clear roadmap of their rights and obligations in the event of a supply disruption,” said BDEW director Kerstin Andreae. .
The head of the Federal Network Agency, Klaus Müller, also called on consumers and businesses to play their part in dealing with the situation. He stressed the need to reduce energy consumption and prepare “for all scenarios”.
The German chemical industry association, VCI, has also raised concerns. VCI chief Christian Kullmann told Reuters news agency he feared an “industrial conflagration” in Germany.
“If our industry ran out of gas, we would have to shut down production facilities,” Kullmann said. “Complex chemical factories cannot simply be turned off and on like a microwave oven.”
Monika Schnitzer of the German Council of Economic Experts said Germany should be prepared for a decision by Moscow to stop delivering natural gas to the country.
“It’s a possibility we have to be prepared for,” she told DW, noting the unpredictable nature of the current situation.
She also urged households to reduce their energy consumption. Every step to reduce usage helps “if the worst is yet to come,” Schnitzer said.
Germany’s heavy dependence on Russian gas
Germany is heavily dependent on Russian gas for its energy needs, with more than half of its fossil fuel supplies coming from Russia, making Europe’s largest economy particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of war in Ukraine.
In recent weeks, Germany has accelerated its plans to reduce its dependence and diversify its supplies.
If the situation worsens and Germany is forced to implement its highest level of alert, the government is likely to take over distribution to ensure an adequate gas supply for ‘protected customers’. i.e. households and hospitals, among other essential services.
fb, sri/kb (AP, dpa, AFP, Reuters)