Russia is resuming supplies of gas via a major pipeline to Europe on Thursday, the pipeline operator said, amid concerns Moscow would use its vast energy exports to push back against Western pressure over its invasion of Ukraine.
The resumption of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline at reduced capacity following a 10-day maintenance break could take several hours, a spokesperson for the operator told Reuters.
The pipeline restart came after comments from Russia’s foreign minister showed the Kremlin’s goals had expanded during the five-month war.
Sergei Lavrov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Russia’s military “tasks” in Ukraine now go beyond the eastern Donbas region.
Lavrov also said Moscow’s objectives will expand further if the West keeps supplying Kyiv with long-range weapons such as the U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
“That means the geographical tasks will extend still further from the current line,” he said, adding peace talks made no sense at the moment.
Nord Stream 1 natural gas flows have resumed after the 10-day maintenance period, and are back to 40% of its capacity.
The next crucial data is around July 26 (next week!), when Vladimir Putin hinted another problem with a turbine is possible
— Javier Blas (@JavierBlas) July 21, 2022
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later told RIA Moscow is not closing the door on talks with Kyiv despite Lavrov’s comments.
Concern that Russian supplies of gas sent through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline could be stopped by Moscow prompted the European Union to tell member states on Wednesday to cut gas usage by 15% until March as an emergency step.
Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, describing a full cut-off of Russian gas flows as “a likely scenario” for which “Europe needs to be ready.”
A spokesperson for Austria’s OMV said Russia’s Gazprom signalled it would deliver around 50% of agreed gas volumes via Nord Stream on Thursday, levels seen before the shutdown.
Russia, the world’s largest gas exporter, has denied Western accusations of using its energy supplies as a tool of coercion, saying it has been a reliable energy supplier.
As for its oil, Russia will not send supplies to the world market if a price cap is imposed below the cost of production, Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak as saying on Wednesday.
Fighting toll mounts
In the battlefront, the Ukrainian military has reported heavy and sometimes fatal Russian shelling amid what its says were largely failed attempts by Russian ground forces to advance in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up the Donbas.
“In the Luhansk region, there is probably not a single square metre of land left untouched by Russian artillery,” Serhiy Gaidai, the regional governor, said on the Telegram messaging app. “Shelling is very intense. They stop only when the metal ‘gets tired’.”
In the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian forces said they had killed more than 100 Russian soldiers in the south and east and destroyed 17 vehicles, some of them armoured.
The Russian-installed administration in the partially occupied Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhia said Ukraine had conducted a drone strike on a nuclear power station there, but the reactor was not damaged.
Multiple blasts were also heard in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson overnight and into Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
Russia’s invasion has killed thousands, displaced millions, and flattened cities, particularly in Russian-speaking areas in the east and southeast of Ukraine. It has also raised global energy, and food prices and increased fears of famine in poorer countries as Ukraine and Russia are both major grain producers.
The United States estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine so far have reached around 15,000 killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded, CIA Director William Burns said on Wednesday.
Russia classifies military deaths as state secrets even in times of peace and has not updated its official casualty figures frequently during the war.
Reuters with additional input from GVS newsdesk.