Mr Vitrenko said the argument that Gazprom cannot produce more contradicts the stated rationale for the Baltic pipeline. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t need Nord Stream 2 at all. Russia can easily ramp up production, not overnight perhaps, but I can remember times when daily flows through Ukraine were three times as much,” he said.
Whatever the commercial arguments, no major European state is likely to take Moscow’s word at face value after the invasion of Crimea. Gazprom has long served as an instrument of Kremlin geostrategy. The new Turk Stream infrastructure has dual military usage, with a sonar surveillance system installed.
Many in Europe clearly wish to secure gas whatever the political price. They are pushing for immediate pre-certification flows through Nord Stream 2 before the industrial core of the Ruhr Valley starts to shut down, and aborts the economic recovery.
But events in Washington have again intruded. The US House of Representative passed a fresh amendment last week demanding the reimposition of sanctions. If the Senate follows suit, the White House may be forced to act. “No one will buy gas from Gazprom going through Nord Stream 2,” said Mr Vitrenko.
Mr Vitrenko said the mix of tightening US policy, a Polish legal challenge within the EU and Mr Putin’s behaviour are all now conspiring to block the pipeline for the foreseeable future. The Greens may soon be in the German government. They want to axe Nord Stream 2 altogether.
“It’s now very unlikely to happen. German regulators know it would just be too noticeable. They have a rule of law in their country, and others do care, so they can’t just ignore it,” he said.
It could be a long painful winter for Europe and the UK. Utilities are turning frantically to biomass, booster compressor stations, and coal where they can, and potentially even to oil substitution in power plants. “Everything comes into play at these prices,” said Mr Vitrenko.
In the end there may have to be price rationing, nature’s cure in the energy markets. “Many industries are just switching off, as we are seeing with companies in the UK. Households adjust their consumption. They’ll be emergency measures by European governments,” said Mr Vitrenko
How long will this stand-off last? “Frankly, I don’t know. It is difficult to predict what is inside Mr Putin’s head,” he said.