At a moment the Biden White House is coming under bipartisan pressure to end Russian oil imports as a 'nuclear option' retribution for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Moscow for the first time hinted that it's ready to use its own energy weapon, after Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Monday Russia could take the drastic action of cutting natural gas supplies to Germany via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Novak said such a move would be a "matching decision" in light of the German government halting the regulatory process for Nord Stream 2 as punishment for the military assault on Ukraine.
"In connection with unfounded accusations against Russia regarding the energy crisis in Europe and the imposition of a ban on Nord Stream 2, we have every right to take a matching decision and impose an embargo on gas pumping through the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline," Novak said on state TV, describing the fresh threat.
He emphasized, however that "so far, we are not taking such a decision". The words, which may have sparked dread among European governments (most notably Germany) and officials already agonizing how to procure the much needed deficient gas, come after the White House has long expressed concern that Putin could 'weaponize energy', leaving Europe without the bulk of its gas supplies - as 40% comes via Russia - more severely impacting already volatile and ratcheting energy markets.
If such a drastic step were taken, natural gas princes in Europe would soar even higher - after already hitting a record high, up over 40% from Friday's close on Monday.
Days after Russia's Feb.24 invasion of Ukraine, some Eastern European leaders went so far as to actually call for Nord Stream 1's closure as a severe but necessary way to punish the Russian economy further and inflict real pain on its energy sector.
Germany's Rheinische Post newspaper reported late last month that German energy giant E.ON rejected calls from Poland to shut down the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had "asked operators of the offshore pipeline – which carries more than a third of Germany's natural gas imports – to shut it down after Moscow ordered troops into Ukraine," the report said.
Last Thursday, Germany's Economy Minister Robert Habeck spoke out against a ban on energy imports from Russia in the wake of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.
"I would not advocate an embargo on Russian imports of fossil fuels. I would even oppose it," he said after meeting German business leaders. "We need these energy supplies to maintain the price stability and energy security in Germany," Habeck added, warning that "a shortage in supply could threaten social cohesion in Germany."