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North Stream 1: Putin's Most Effective Weapon

While Gazprom is once again supplying more gas to Europe, the Kremlin's propaganda mocks the "poor Germans". Russia's president will continue to play off his gas power.

Olga Skabeeva, probably Russia's best-known TV presenter and notorious Kremlin propagandist, is in a particularly good mood right now. "The poor, poor Germans," she says with an ironic smile on the program of the state channel Rossiya 1, where she prepares her viewers for the Kremlin line every day. Skabeeva, reporters and studio guests who have joined the film take a detailed look at the supposed horrors of life in Europeapart: long showers that become a luxury.

The unemployment that threatens because companies can no longer afford gas, while the EU members are at odds over the threat of austerity measures. According to Rossija 1, only the pawnshops flourished because the suffering Europeans pawned their valuables. Skabejewa's conclusion is devastating: "Even if Scholz no longer washes his crotch and bottom folds, German industry will come to a standstill. And that in sated capitalism."

The message of such crude propaganda is clear. Although Russia's export monopoly Gazprom has now dutifully resumed deliveries after maintenance work on Nord Stream 1, there is still no sign of an easing of the European gas supply. The blame lies solely with the Europeans themselves. And Thursday's brief sigh of relief after the worst-case scenario of a complete delivery stop did not materialize only confirms how dependent Europe is on Russia's benevolence. In the end, the West is said to have harmed itself with the sanctions against Russia.

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Vladimir Putin didn't miss an opportunity to shoot at the "foolish Europeans" during the week. As recently as Tuesday, he was mocking the European energy transition. "Europeans are great experts when it comes to non-traditional relationships and that's why they also rely on non-traditional sources when it comes to energy," said Putin - an allusion to Europe as a haven of tolerance for same-sex partnerships, which are described in Russian as "non-traditional". A day later, the head of the Kremlin laughed at alleged calls to the German population to only wash certain parts of their bodies in order to "annoy Putin." This is completely crazy, said Russia 's president. "They made a bunch of mistakes themselves and are now looking for someone to blame." 

In fact, during these performances, Vladimir Putin could already feel like the winner of the most recent round in the gas power game. Because the Siemens turbine, whose absence Gazprom cited as the reason for the recent rationing of Nord Stream supplies, was already on its way back to Russia. Germany had tried to get an exemption from the sanctions so that Canada would release the device anyway. The federal government declared that it did not want to give the Kremlin any further excuses to cut gas supplies.

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But even before the old turbine has reached Russia, there are many indications that the problem has not been solved from the Russian point of view. On Wednesday, the head of the Kremlin said that the next unit would have to be taken off the grid and serviced on July 26th. Industry experts close to the Kremlin also supported Putin with arguments. "First you have to inspect the turbine and examine the condition it came back in. After all, it comes from a country that is unfriendly to Russia," said Stanislav Mitrachovich, a gas expert at Moscow's State Finance University, during an appearance on state television. The gas company itself has meanwhile announced that it has not yet received any written assurances that

Europe should not be able to build up sufficient gas reserves

So there are many indications that the supply situation will not improve in the coming weeks, but could even get worse. "At first glance, it would be good for Gazprom to show that once the problems caused by sanctions are solved, the throughput will increase," analyzes Yuri Yushkov, an expert at the National Energy Security Foundation. On the other hand, Gazprom has an interest in maintaining tensions around Nord Stream 1 as long as the return of the turbines from Canada is only an exception and not a permanent solution. 

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Despite all the propaganda, Russia's economic interests can also be seen. These primarily lie in not allowing a complete halt to deliveries – be it caused by sanctions from third countries or by a voluntary renunciation of Russian gas by Europeans. At the core of this strategy, Gazprom must prevent Europe from building up sufficient gas reserves. To do this, deliveries must be reduced to a minimum. Even a short interruption in deliveries from Russia, for example in winter, would be a major problem for the economy of Europe, especially in Germany. Putin decides where this minimum lies.

From the Russian point of view, the artificially created gas shortage represents a kind of protective shield against further sanctions against the Russian energy industry. Although Russian gas production fell by around 30 percent in July compared to the same month last year, the high gas prices are currently compensating for these shortfalls. At least the step taken by the federal government to persuade Canada to make an exception for the Gazprom turbine shows that this tactic can certainly be successful. 

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At the same time, those voices in Moscow that openly describe gas as a weapon in the struggle with the western states are becoming louder. One of those voices is Yuri Podolyaka, a military analyst and propagandist with good connections to the Russian military. Two million people follow Podoljaka on Telegram alone. He is on the air almost every day on state TV channels to explain to viewers the current course of the front and how it is changing.

On Thursday, in one of his most recent videos, Podoljaka exulted in the predicament Europe had maneuvered itself into. Europe is in a quandary. "On the one hand, it can't get away from its catastrophic dependence on Russian gas, on the other hand, it wants to help Ukraine, but it understands perfectly that the more arms go to Ukraine, the less gas from Russia flows west," Podoliaka said. This is also the reason why Ukraine was promised fewer new weapons at the recent meeting with western allies than at previous meetings. "The gas baton," says Podoljaka, "seems to be Russia's most effective weapon at the moment."

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