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BERLIN — The German government officially put its energy market on a war footing on Thursday in the face of Russia’s sharp cut in gas supplies, asking households to cut consumption and warning that industrial production would be hit. .
Announcing the second stage of his three-step warning system – a shutdown before a full emergency where the government would take control of energy distribution and rational gas supply – German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said that it was time to take seriously the consequences of the supply cuts following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
“There should be no illusions, cutting off the gas supply is an economic attack on us by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” Habeck said. “It is clearly Putin’s strategy to create insecurity, drive up prices and divide us as a society.”
He called on German households to “make a difference” and change their consumption habits, but refrained from allowing energy suppliers to pass on any cost increases to households.
“I know it sometimes seems trivial, but you always have to multiply that triviality by 41 million households,” Habeck said.
Last week, Berlin reported a sharp reduction in gas deliveries via the Russia-Germany Nord Stream undersea gas pipeline. Italy and France also reported cuts in their usual imports of Russian gas via Germany, putting them on a long list of European countries whose supplies have been reduced or stopped altogether.
Russia insists the Nord Stream cuts are due to pipeline maintenance work and blamed Canadian contractors for the problems, but Habeck and other European leaders say the measures are a political ploy.
The pipeline will be closed next month for what Russia says is necessary maintenance – something that also happened last July.
On Sunday, Habeck announced national contingency plans that include supplying electricity from coal-fired power stations that had been mothballed – a “bitter” step according to the Greens co-leader – while putting in place a program to reward companies that conserve gas.
Germany and other EU countries are trying to fill gas tanks ahead of the winter heating season, made more difficult by Russia squeezing supplies; the European Commission wants storage to be 80% full by November 1.
Habeck’s ministry said Thursday that national gas storage facilities are currently 58% full, more than the same time last year; the goal is to reach 90% by December.
“Filling the gas storage is now the top priority,” Habeck said. “All consumers, whether in industry, in public institutions or private households, must reduce their gas consumption as much as possible so that we can get through the winter.”
The German government has also set up a €15 billion credit line to pay for non-Russian supplies.
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