BEXBACH, Germany — Natural gas began flowing again through the main pipeline from Russia to Germany on Thursday, allaying European fears that a shut-off during scheduled maintenance would become permanent, but not resolving broader concerns about the continent’s energy being held hostage in Russia’s war.
It avoids — at least for now — what officials had talked about as a “nightmare scenario” for Europe’s largest economy, with impact throughout the continent and around the world.
But while the resumption provides some relief, European countries are still bracing for the worst. Fears remain high that Putin will use gas as leverage against western countries backing Kyiv as he continues his assault on Ukraine. Despite a rush to diversify, Germany remains at the whim of Russia for about a third of its gas supply, and France about a fifth.
Russian state energy company Gazprom has already significantly reduced supply to the E.U. over the past months, including cutting the amount of gas flowing through the Nord Stream pipeline by 60 percent.
Gazprom has additionally sought to invoke “force majeure” — a legal provision used to release a party from contractual commitments in the case of extreme events such as war, storms or fires.
With prices high and gas storage levels relatively low, the European Commission on Wednesday released a proposal for countries in the bloc to reduce their gas usage over the winter by 15 percent.
Germany, one of the most exposed due to its dependence on Russian energy, is already in the second phase of an emergency gas crisis plan.
German consumers are being urged to save energy in anyway they can, from taking cold showers to turning off lights. Hot water has been turned off in municipal buildings and fountains lie still. Some residential landlords have already said they might turn down the heat this winter.
The government’s hope is that it won’t have to take the final drastic step in its contingency planning: intervention in the market to deny gas supplies to certain industries.
“Russia is blackmailing us,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she unveiled Europe’s contingency plans on Wednesday, adding that whether it’s a partial gas cutoff or a major one “Europe needs to be ready.”
Germany has tried to eliminate any pretexts Russia might use for shutting off supplies. Earlier this month it urged Canada to skirt its own sanctions to return a turbine for the Nord Stream pipeline that had been stranded in Montreal, so Moscow could not cite it as an excuse for keeping the gas off.