Gazprom told European customers it was no longer responsible for gas shortages due to “extraordinary circumstances”, Reuters reported, citing a copy of the letter. The legal move comes amid a growing energy crisis in Europe, where many countries rely on Russian gas, even as they seek to squeeze Moscow economically.
Force majeure is a standard contractual provision that releases parties from liability to fulfill their commitments in the event of extreme events – such as war, storms or fires – beyond the company’s control. Invoking it, Gazprom asserts that it should not be held responsible for having reneged on gas deliveries promised to Europe in the context of the war.
Gas delivery through the Nord Stream pipeline has been halted for a week as the pipeline undergoes scheduled maintenance – but even before that the flow of gas from Russia to Europe had slowed dramatically. Gazprom reduced gas deliveries via Nord Stream 1 to 40% of capacity on June 14, a date the company later listed as the start of force majeure.
Uniper, Germany’s largest importer of Russian gas, confirmed to the Washington Post that it had received a notice from Gazprom “in which the company invokes force majeure retroactively for past and current shortfalls in gas deliveries,” wrote a Uniper spokesperson in an email. “We consider this to be unwarranted and have formally rejected the force majeure claim.”
RWE, Germany’s largest power producer, also received a force majeure letter from Gazprom, spokeswoman Stephanie Schunck confirmed to The Post. She declined to comment further.
Gazprom could not immediately be reached for comment.
The legal maneuver has raised concerns about the future of Russia’s gas supply to Europe at a time when tensions over energy security are already high. The reduction in gas delivery has hit Uniper hard, costing the company tens of millions of euros a day since Moscow cut capacity in June, The New York Times reported. The company, which drew on a 2 billion euro line of credit from Germany’s state-owned investment bank on Monday, is asking for additional credit and an urgent bailout from the German government.
Gazprom blamed Western sanctions on Russia’s war in Ukraine for the dwindling supply, pointing to a missing turbine that was sent to Canada for repair and could not be returned to Russia due to sanctions economic. Germany disputed the idea that the missing turbine produced the dramatic cut. Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported that Canada airlifted the turbine to Germany on Sunday, which will then send it to Russia next week.
Fears in Europe have grown in recent days that Russia may not be able to restart gas deliveries via Nord Stream 1 after maintenance scheduled to end on Thursday. Gazprom has not committed to do so.
“Russia continues to use natural gas as a political and economic weapon,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a press briefing on Tuesday. “Russia’s energy corrosion has put pressure on energy markets, driving up prices for consumers and threatening global energy security.”
But it’s still unclear whether the concerns are warranted. The force majeure declaration is of “little significance” beyond legal wrangling, said Jens Suedekum, professor of economics at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and adviser to Germany’s climate and energy ministry. Ultimately, no one yet knows what decision Russian President Vladimir Putin will make about resuming gas supplies, he said.
“We will only know how to interpret what Gazprom is saying when we know what will happen at the end of the week,” said Philipp Heilmaier, head of the future energy supply division at the German Energy Agency. .
Loveday Morris contributed to this report.