Russia on Thursday cut flows to Europe's most important natural gas pipeline for the second straight day as leaders of the continent's three biggest economies visited Kyiv in a sign of support for Ukraine.
Although Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas giant, blamed the squeeze on needed repairs, European officials openly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of using energy supplies as a weapon.
Meanwhile, Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) signed a technical agreement on construction of a pipeline from Russia's Far East into China.
Russia and China had signed a long-term gas supply deal in February. That agreement underscored how escalating tensions with the West have pushed forward Russia's long-term strategy to diversify its resource exports to Asian countries, especially China, Energy Voice reported.
Gas exports have given Putin an important diplomatic tool in Europe, which heavily relies on Moscow for energy.
The second day of flow reduction to Germany, Italy, and Austria occurred as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, The New York Times reported.
Draghi said he did not believe Russia's explanation that repairs were needed for the European pipeline.
"We, Germany and other countries believe that these are lies," Draghi told reporters at a news conference, where he compared Russia's latest move to its blockade of other Ukrainian exports.
"In reality, there is a political use of gas, like there is a political use of grain."
Reuters reported that the latest move cuts supply to just 40% of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline's capacity.
Gazprom blamed the flow reduction on the delayed return of equipment that had been sent to German company Siemens Energy for repairs.
Siemens Energy said the delay in returning the equipment to Gazprom was because they were taken to Canada for a scheduled overhaul and have not been returned due to Ottawa's sanctions on Russia, Deutsche Welle reported.
BBC reported that Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands already had their Russian natural gas deliveries suspended after they refused a demand for "unfriendly countries" to pay in Russian rubles.
Germany's economy minister has accused Gazprom of attempting to push up energy prices by sharply reducing supplies.
Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said Russia would play by its own rules after limiting the amount of gas to Germany.
"Our product, our rules. We don't play by rules we didn't create," Miller said during a panel discussion at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, BBC reported.
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