Germany triggers gas warning amid Russian ruble demand

Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP
Robert Habeck, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection, holds a press conference at his ministry on energy security in Germany in Berlin Germany, Wednesday, March 30, 2022. The German government said Wednesday it was triggering the early warning level for gas supplies amid concerns that Russia could cut off supplies unless it is paid in rubles.

BERLIN (AP) — Germany triggered an early warning level for natural gas supplies and called on consumers to save energy amid concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless it is paid in rubles, the government said Wednesday.

Western nations have rejected the Russian demand for ruble payments, arguing it would undermine the sanctions imposed against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the move was a precautionary measure as, so far, Russia is still fulfilling its contracts. But he appealed to companies and households in Germany to start reducing their gas consumption.

“There have been several comments from the Russian side that if this (payments in rubles) doesn’t happen, then the supplies will be stopped,” he told reporters in Berlin, adding that Moscow is expected to unveil new rules for gas payments on Thursday. “In order to be prepared for this situation I have today triggered the early warning level.”

Habeck, who is also Germany’s energy minister and vice chancellor, said this was the first of three warning levels and entailed the establishment of a crisis team in his ministry that will step up monitoring of the gas supply situation.

Germany has taken steps in recent weeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel supplies from Russia because of the war in Ukraine.

“On average we in Germany imported 55% of our gas from Russia in recent years, and this has now already gone down to 40%,” Habeck said. Berlin has signed deals with several supplies of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which is shipped to neighboring European countries and then pumped to Germany.

Habeck said Germany’s gas storages are currently filled to about 25% capacity.

“The question how long the gas will last basically depends on several factors (such as) consumption and weather,” he said. “If there’s a lot of heating, then the storage facilities will be emptied.”

He added that Germany is prepared for a sudden stop in Russian gas supplies, but warned that this would have “considerable impacts” and urged consumers to play their part in preventing a shortage by scaling back demand.

“We are in a situation where, I have to say this clearly, every kilowatt hour of energy saved helps,” said Habeck. “And that’s why I would like to combine the triggering of the warning level with an appeal to companies and private consumers to help Germany, help Ukraine, by saving gas or energy as a whole.”

The second warning level would require companies in the gas industry take necessary measures to direct supply. The third warning level entails full state intervention into the gas market to ensure that those who most need gas — such as hospital and private households — receive it, said Habeck.

“We’re not there and we don’t want to go there,” he added.