An energy battle between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine revved up Friday with Moscow delaying the reopening of its main gas pipeline to Germany and G-7 nations announcing a price cap on Russian oil exports.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said it could not resume the supply of natural gas to Germany, just hours before it was set to restart deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Russia blamed a technical fault in the pipeline for the move, which is likely to worsen Europe’s energy crisis.
European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said Friday on Twitter that Gazprom acted under “fallacious pretenses” to shut down the pipeline.
Turbine-maker Siemens Energy said Friday that there was no technical reason to stop shipping natural gas.
Moscow has blamed Western sanctions that took effect after Russia invaded Ukraine for hindering the maintenance of the gas pipeline. Europe accuses Russia of using its leverage over gas supplies to retaliate against European sanctions.
Also Friday, finance ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies said they would work quickly to implement a price cap on Russian oil exports.
The G-7 ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States said the amount of the price cap would be determined later “based on a range of technical inputs.”
“This price cap on Russian oil exports is designed to reduce [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s revenues, closing an important source of funding for the war of aggression,” said German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the decision by G-7 finance ministers.
“When this mechanism is implemented, it will become an important element of protecting civilized countries and energy markets from Russian hybrid aggression,” Zelenskyy said in his Friday evening video address.
The jockeying for control of energy supplies comes as Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in fighting near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, where U.N. inspectors are seeking to avert a potential disaster.
Ukraine’s military said Friday that it had carried out strikes against a Russian base in the southern town of Enerhodar, near the nuclear power plant.
Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling near the facility. Kyiv also accuses Moscow of storing ammunition around the plant and using it as a shield for carrying out attacks, charges Russia denies.
Inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have visited the Zaporizhzhia plant, braving artillery blasts to reach the facility on Thursday.
IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi said that he and his team saw everything they asked to see at the plant, that they were not surprised by anything, and that he would issue a report early next week on his findings.
Grossi, who has since left Ukraine and spoke with reporters Friday after arriving at the airport in Vienna, said, “My concern would be the physical integrity – would be the power supply and of course the staff” at Zaporizhzhia.
A team of 13 experts accompanied Grossi to Ukraine, and he said six have remained at Zaporizhzhia. Of those six, two will remain until hostilities cease, which Grossi said would make a huge difference.
“If something happens or if any limitation comes, they are going to be reporting it — report it to us,” Grossi said. “It is no longer a matter of ‘A said this, and B said the contrary.’ Now the IAEA is there.”
Ukraine’s nuclear agency, Energoatom, on Friday accused Russia of “making every effort” to prevent the IAEA mission from learning the real situation at the facility.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Thursday, “Ukraine did everything to make this mission happen. But it is bad that the occupiers are trying to turn this IAEA mission — a really necessary one — into a fruitless tour of the plant.”
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, leading the inspection group, told reporters Thursday the agency was “establishing our continued presence” at Europe’s biggest nuclear facility. He said it was obvious that the “physical integrity” of the Zaporizhzhia plant “has been violated several times.”
Grossi said, “I worried, I worry, and I will continue to be worried about the plant.”
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by Russia since the earliest days of its invasion but is operated by Ukrainian engineers.
With the nuclear plant in a war zone, world leaders have expressed fears it could be damaged and result in a radiation disaster like that at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant in 1986.
VOA’s Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.