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Germany raises national energy alert over Russia’s ‘economic attack’

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BERLIN — The German government formally placed its energy market on a war footing Thursday over Russia’s sharp reduction of gas supplies, telling households to reduce consumption and warning that industrial output will be hit.

Announcing stage two of its three-stage alert system — one stop short of a full emergency where the government would take control of energy distribution and ration gas supply — Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said it was time to get serious about the consequences of supply cuts following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We must not delude ourselves, cutting gas supplies is an economic attack on us by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Habeck. “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 stopped short of allowing energy suppliers to pass any increased costs on to households.

“I know that sometimes this sounds trivial, but you always have to multiply this triviality by 41 million households,” Habeck said.

Last week, Berlin reported a sharp cut in gas deliveries through the undersea Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream pipeline. Italy and France also reported cuts to their usual imports of Russian gas via Germany, putting them on a long list of European countries that have had their supplies either slashed or stopped entirely.

Mayor of the German coastal resort town of Lubmin Axel Vogt poses in front of an information point container decorated with a map showing the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline | John Macdougall/AFP via Getty Images

Russia insists the Nord Stream reductions are down to pipeline maintenance work and has blamed Canadian contractors for the problems, but Habeck and other European leaders say the measures are a political ploy.

The pipeline will be shut next month for what Russia says is needed maintenance — something that also happened last July.

On Sunday, Habeck announced national contingency plans that include sourcing electricity from coal plants that had been placed on standby — a “bitter” step according to the Greens co-leader — while also setting up a scheme to reward companies that conserve gas.

Germany and other EU countries are trying to fill gas storages ahead of the winter heating season, something made more difficult by Russia squeezing supplies; the European Commission wants storages filled to 80 percent by November 1.

Habeck’s ministry said Thursday that national gas storage facilities are currently filled to 58 percent, more than at the same time last year; the goal is to reach 90 percent by December.

“Filling the gas storage is now the top priority,” Habeck said. “All consumers, whether in industry, in public institutions or private households, should reduce their gas consumption as much as possible so that we can make it 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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