By Vladimir Soldatkin
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters)—Russia's biggest natural gas pipeline to Europe will not resume pumping until Siemens Energy repairs faulty equipment, Gazprom’s Deputy Chief Executive Vitaly Markelov told Reuters on Tuesday.
Europe is facing its worst gas supply crisis ever, with energy prices soaring and German importers even discussing possible rationing in the European Union's biggest economy after Russia reduced flows westwards.
Gazprom on Friday said the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Europe's major supply route, would remain shut as a turbine at a compressor station had an engine oil leak, sending wholesale gas prices soaring.
When asked when Nord Stream 1 would start pumping gas again, Markelov told Reuters on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok: "You should ask Siemens. They have to repair equipment first."
Siemens Energy said it was not currently commissioned by Gazprom to do maintenance work on the turbine with the suspected engine oil leak, but was on standby.
The company, headquartered in Munich, Germany, said on Tuesday that it did not comprehend Gazprom's presentation of the situation.
It said an engine oil leak at the last remaining turbine in operation at the Portovaya compressor station did not constitute a reason to keep the pipeline closed.
"We cannot comprehend this new representation based on the information provided to us over the weekend," Siemens Energy said in a written statement.
"Our assessment is that the finding communicated to us does not represent a technical reason for stopping operation. Such leaks do not normally affect the operation of a turbine and can be sealed on site," it added.
The Kremlin blames the energy crisis on sanctions imposed on Russia by the West over what President Vladimir Putin calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine. European leaders say Moscow is using energy to blackmail the EU.
Nord Stream 1, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany, is by far the biggest Russian gas pipeline to Europe, carrying up to 59.2 billion cubic metres of gas per year.
Once considered a symbol of the cooperation between one of the world's biggest energy powers and the world's fourth largest economy, Nord Stream has now become the subject of recriminations between Berlin and Moscow.
Germany, the biggest European purchaser of Russian energy, says Russia is no longer a reliable supplier. EU politicians say Putin is using his clout as the head of one of the world's biggest energy powers to stoke discord in Europe over the conflict in Ukraine.
Germany dismisses Gazprom's explanations about turbine issues as a pretext.
But the Kremlin says that the West triggered the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Putin says is akin to a declaration of economic war.
The Kremlin also warned that Russia would retaliate over a G7 proposal to impose a price cap on Russian oil, a step that is unlikely to hurt Russia unless China and India were to follow suit.
Russian Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov said on Tuesday in Vladivostok that Russia will respond to the price cap by shipping more oil to Asia. He said Russia and its partners were considering setting up an insurer to facilitate the oil trade.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Jan Harvey)