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As Russia limits Europe’s natural gas supply, Germany pays the price

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A pressure gauge for natural gas lines in Germany.

Last year, Russia supplied more than half of Germany’s natural gas. Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

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Russia’s state-run energy company, Gazprom, has announced that it’s cutting the amount of natural gas it delivers to Europe through the Nord Stream pipeline. Starting Wednesday, the flow of gas will be limited to just 20% of that pipeline’s capacity.

Though Russians blame Western sanctions for the reduction — sanctions that were imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — this is just the latest in a series of moves to use energy as a geopolitical cudgel, in this case against Germany.

Last year, Russia supplied more than half of Germany’s natural gas. That’s too much, according to Daniel Fried, who was U.S. ambassador to Poland during the Bill Clinton administration.

“People, including myself, were warning the Germans about excessive dependence on Russia as a source of natural gas,” he said.

The Germans paid no mind and are now facing the consequences, Fried said. Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the resource as a weapon, driving its price sky-high.

“The question is, can Germany in particular, Europe in general, find enough extra gas to mitigate the sting of what Russia is doing, which is choking them?” Fried said.

The Germans are bringing in four floating liquefied natural gas import terminals they hope will be operational this year. Generally speaking, German citizens support weaning the country off Russian oil and gas, said Kristine Berzina at the German Marshall Fund. Right now, Germany’s middle class is footing the bill.

“As long as they are OK with paying this, the foreign policy can stand,” she said. “The question is how crazy do the prices get before foreign policy changes?”

It’s not just household bills that German politicians have to worry about.

“The larger issue is the consequences it’s having for different industries,” said Margarita Balmaceda, who teaches international relations at Seton Hall University.

Some German chemical companies, Balmaceda added, have had to cancel orders because they’re not confident their customers will cover the higher cost of natural gas.

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