Russia cuts gas supply forcing Europe to return to coal

Rev 6:6 NAS “And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Germany makes ‘bitter’ decision to return to coal and Italy contemplates rationing as Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe
  • Italian government and energy industry would meet Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the crisis, with the likely outcome being the introduction of a state of alert under the country’s gas emergency protocol.

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U.S. has ‘understanding’ with Germany to shut Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine -congressional aide

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials have told members of Congress they have an understanding with Germany about shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior congressional aide told Reuters on Tuesday.

The aide said U.S. officials told Congress they have been in contact with their German counterparts in the event of an invasion, given the massing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

U.S. officials say they have received assurances from Germany the pipeline would be turned off, the aide said. But it was unclear if the two sides had agreed on a definition of invasion, the aide said.

A European diplomat told Reuters U.S. officials had made it clear to allies that they would act to sanction the pipeline in the event of an invasion, which could make any German action a moot point.

“If the U.S. imposes (additional) sanctions, it’s an academic point, because no one will be able to do business with Nord Stream 2 for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.”

German officials told reporters on Tuesday that there was still a process to complete before the pipeline would even start operations.

President Joe Biden has long opposed the Russian-German pipeline. The U.S. State Department has sanctioned Russian entities related to it, but not the company behind it, as it has tried to rebuild ties with Germany that deteriorated under Donald Trump’s administration.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Heather Timmons and Mark Heinrich)

Man killed family, then self, over faked vaccine pass -German prosecutor

BERLIN (Reuters) – A man who killed his wife and three young children before taking his own life had faked a vaccination certificate and feared his children would be taken away from him when the forgery was discovered, a German prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Police found two adults, both 40, and three children aged four, eight and 10 dead from gunshot wounds in a family home in Koenigs Wusterhausen south of Berlin on Saturday.

In a farewell note found by police, the man said he forged a vaccination certificate for his wife. Her employer had found out, prompting the couple to fear they would be arrested and lose their children, prosecutor Gernot Bantleon told Reuters.

Police were called to the house after being alerted by witnesses who had seen lifeless bodies in the house, police and prosecutors said on Saturday.

The grisly case comes as Germany has been tightening up restrictions to try to stem a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic. From last month, employees have been required to show they are vaccinated, recovered or test negative for COVID-19.

German authorities agreed last week to bar the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries, and they also plan to make vaccination mandatory for some jobs.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Germany, U.S. take new COVID restrictions as Omicron spreads across globe

By Joseph Nasr and Jeff Mason

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Germany decided on Thursday to bar the unvaccinated from all but the most essential business and the United States prepared further travel restrictions as the world scrambled to curb the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

With countries including the United States, India and France reporting their first Omicron cases, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she hoped the pandemic would not completely stifle economic activity.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but it could cause significant problems. We’re still evaluating that,” she told the Reuters Next conference.

The new measures in Germany focus on the unvaccinated, who will only be allowed in essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies, while legislation to make vaccination mandatory will be drafted for early next year.

“We have understood that the situation is very serious,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.

A nationwide vaccination mandate could take effect from February 2022 after it is debated in the Bundestag and after guidance from Germany’s Ethics Council, she said.

Eager to avoid derailing a fragile recovery of Europe’s biggest economy, Germany kept businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those with proof of having recovered from the virus.

In the United States, the Biden administration was expected to announce steps included extending requirements for travelers to wear masks through mid-March.

By early next week the United States will require inbound international travelers to be tested for COVID-19 within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.

And private health insurance companies will be required to reimburse customers for at-home COVID-19 tests, as part of a winter strategy that Biden is due to announce at 1840 GMT.

“The president is going to unveil a very robust plan, pull out all the stops to prepare for the winter and to prepare for the new variant,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told broadcaster MSNBC.

UNKNOWN

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant.

But the European Union’s public health agency said Omicron could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within a few months, lending weight to preliminary information about its high transmissibility.

“It’s going to take about two more weeks to have more definitive information about the Omicron variant,” U.S. Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in an interview for the Reuters Next conference, adding that travel restrictions could slow the spread and give authorities the time to assess what further steps could be needed.

South Africa said it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron – with people who have already had the illness getting infected again – in a way that it did not see with other variants.

The first known U.S. case, announced late on Wednesday, was a fully vaccinated person in California who had travelled to South Africa. Another case was reported in Minnesota on Thursday. The two French cases, in the greater Paris region and in eastern France, were passengers arriving respectively from Nigeria and South Africa.

Global shares fell on Thursday, reversing gains from the previous session as a lack of information about Omicron left markets volatile, while crude oil futures extended losses.

TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS

Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine for travelers from some African countries including South Africa, the Interfax news agency said, quoting a senior official. Hong Kong extended a travel ban to more countries and Norway, among others, re-introduced travel restrictions.

Amid all the new restrictions, Europe’s largest budget airline, Ryanair, said it expected a challenging time at Christmas, although it was still optimistic about summer demand.

In the Netherlands, health authorities called for pre-flight COVID-19 tests for all travel from outside the European Union, after it turned out that most of the passengers who tested positive after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Nov. 26 had been vaccinated.

In France, the country’s top scientific adviser, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, said the “true enemy” for now was still the more familiar Delta variant of the virus, spreading in a fifth wave.

Laboratory analysis of the antibody-based COVID-19 therapy GlaxoSmithKline is developing with U.S. partner Vir has indicated the drug is effective against Omicron, the British drugmaker said.

And Novavax Inc said it could begin commercial manufacturing of a COVID-19 vaccine tailored for the Omicron coronavirus variant in January next year, while it tests whether or not its current vaccine works against the variant.

(Reporting by Reuters bureau; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry)

 

Germany jails Islamic State member for life over role in Yazidi genocide

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -A German court on Tuesday jailed a former Islamic State militant for life for involvement in genocide and crimes against humanity against minority Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, including the murder of a five-year-old girl.

It was the first genocide verdict against a member of Islamic State, an offshoot of al Qaeda that seized large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 before being ousted by U.S.-backed counter-offensives, losing its last territorial redoubt in 2019.

In a landmark ruling, the court in Frankfurt found Taha al-Jumailly, 29, an Iraqi national, guilty of involvement in the slaughter of more than 3,000 Yazidis and enslavement of 7,000 women and girls by IS jihadists in 2014-15.

This, the court ruled, included the murder of a five-year-old girl the defendant had enslaved and chained to a window, leaving her to die in scorching heat in 2015 in Iraq.

Al-Jumailly, who entered the court covering his face with a file folder, was arrested in Greece in 2019 and extradited to Germany where relatives of slain Yazidis acted as plaintiffs supporting the prosecution.

“Today’s ruling marks the first ever worldwide confirmation by a court that the crimes of Islamic State against the Yazidi religious group are genocide,” said Meike Olszak of Amnesty International’s branch in Germany.

The defendant’s German wife, identified only as Jennifer W., was used as a prosecution witness at his trial. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for involvement in the enslavement of the Yazidi girl and her mother.

The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority in eastern Syria and northwest Iraq that Islamic State viewed as supposed devil worshippers for their faith that combines Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.

Islamic State’s depredations also displaced most of the 550,000-strong Yazidi community.

(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Germany’s Scholz supports mandatory vaccines by end Feb – sources

BERLIN (Reuters) – Olaf Scholz, who is set to take over as German chancellor next week, supports making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory and backs barring the unvaccinated from non-essential stores, sources said on Tuesday.

Scholz and outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel were meeting regional leaders on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to soaring infections in a fourth wave of the pandemic.

According to sources with information about the discussion, Scholz told the meeting he was in favor of a cross-party initiative to make vaccines mandatory, with the hope that it could be put into practice by the end of February.

Neighboring Austria, which like Germany has a relatively low rate of vaccination compared with the rest of western Europe, earlier this month announced plans to make vaccines compulsory as of February.

Scholz is also in favor of making non-essential stores require customers to show proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19, the sources said.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported that 452.2 people per 100,000 were infected in the last week, down slightly from 452.4 on Monday. It was the first decline since early November.

Despite this, the number of new daily cases rose slightly on Tuesday compared to last week to 45,753, and another 388 deaths were recorded – the highest daily figure since early March. That bought the overall death toll to 101,344.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Miranda Murray and Alison Williams)

Austria locks down, Merkel says new steps needed, as Europe faces COVID freeze

By Francois Murphy and Maria Sheahan

VIENNA/BERLIN (Reuters) -Austria became on Monday the first country in western Europe to reimpose lockdown since vaccines were rolled out, shutting non-essential shops, bars and cafes as surging caseloads raised the prospect of a third winter in deep freeze for the continent.

Germany will also need tighter restrictions to control a record-setting wave of infections, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted as saying, remarks that erased gains on European stock markets and sent bond yields down.

With Europe once again the epicenter of the global pandemic, new restrictions and vaccine mandates are expected to spread nearly two years after the first COVID-19 case was identified in China.

“We are in a highly dramatic situation. What is in place now is not sufficient,” Merkel told leaders of her German CDU party in a meeting, according to two participants, confirming comments first reported by Bloomberg.

Austria told people to work from home if they can, and shut cafes, restaurants, bars, theatres and non-essential shops for 10 days. People may leave home for a limited number of reasons, such as going to workplaces, buying essentials or taking a walk.

The Austrian government has also announced it will make it compulsory to get inoculated as of Feb. 1. Many Austrians are skeptical about vaccinations, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.

“It’s like a luxury prison. It’s definitely limited freedom and for me it’s not great psychologically,” said Sascha Iamkovyi, a 43-year-old entrepreneur in the food sector, describing his return to lockdown on a chilly, overcast day in an unusually quiet Vienna.

“People were promised that if they got vaccinated they would be able to lead a normal life, but now that’s not true.”

The return of severe government restrictions in Austria had already brought about 40,000 protesters to Vienna’s streets on Saturday, and protests turned to violence in Brussels and across the Netherlands over the weekend.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia banned unvaccinated people from services including pubs from Monday.

Around a third of Austrians are unvaccinated, one of the highest rates in western Europe, and authorities mainly blame the unvaccinated for the current COVID wave, though protection from vaccines given early this year is also waning. Inoculation greatly reduces the risk of serious illness or death, and reduces but does not prevent viral transmission or re-infection.

Austria’s conservative-led government imposed a lockdown on the unvaccinated last week, but daily infections kept rising far above the previous peak, requiring this week’s full lockdown.

In many parts of Germany, including its capital Berlin, Christmas markets opened for the first time in two years on Monday. But states bordering Austria and the Czech Republic that have Germany’s highest case numbers have introduced stricter rules, cancelling Christmas markets, barring the unvaccinated from restaurants and bars and imposing curfews at night.

WATER CANNON AND TEAR GAS

Eastern European countries where vaccination rates are even lower have been experiencing some of the highest death tolls per capita in the world, with hospitals becoming overrun in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.

In cities across the Netherlands, riots broke out as police clashed with mobs of angry youths who set fires and threw rocks to protest at COVID-19 restrictions. More than 100 people were arrested during three nights of violence, which saw police open fire at rioters in Rotterdam on Friday.

Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Brussels on Sunday, with officers firing water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and smoke bombs.

In France, proof of vaccination or a recent negative test is required to go to restaurants and cinemas. President Emmanuel Macron said last week more lockdowns were not needed.

But violence erupted last week in the French Caribbean region of Guadeloupe amid protests over COVID-19 restrictions such as the mandatory vaccines for health workers.

Police have arrested at least 38 people and dozens of stores have been looted. Macron said on Monday the protests had created a “very explosive” situation as a general strike entered a second week on Monday and many stores remained shuttered.

(Additonal reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Writing by Nick MacfieEditing by Alison Williams, Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

German regulator puts brake on Nord Stream 2 in fresh blow to gas pipeline

By Vera Eckert

FRANKFURT (Reuters) -Germany’s energy regulator has suspended the approval process for a major new pipeline bringing Russian gas into Europe, throwing up a new roadblock to the contentious project and driving up regional gas prices.

The watchdog said on Tuesday it had temporarily halted the certification process because the Swiss-based consortium behind Nord Stream 2 first needed to form a German subsidiary company under German law to secure an operating license.

European prices jumped almost 11% on news of the hold-up, with the Dutch front-month contract hitting 90.40 euros/MWh in afternoon trade.

“This does push back expected timelines quite a bit,” said analyst Trevor Sikorski at Energy Aspects, adding that it was unclear how long the process of establishing a new company and reapplying for certification would take.

First flows through the pipeline look very unlikely in the first half of 2022, he added.

Nord Stream 2 has faced stiff opposition from the United States and some European states, which say it will make Europe too reliant on Russian gas. But other European governments say the link is vital to secure energy supplies, with gas prices surging in recent weeks and the threat of power outages looming this winter.

Nord Stream 2 said it had been notified by the regulator about the certification decision. “We are not in a position to comment on the details of the procedure, its possible duration and impacts on the timing of the start of the pipeline operations,” it added.

The Kremlin was not immediately available to comment.

“Any delays in the pipeline certification, all the more so on the eve of winter, is not in the interests of the European Union, that’s without any doubt,” Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy chairman of Russian parliament’s upper house, told TASS news agency.

The regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur, said it would only assess an application after a transfer of major assets and budgets for staffing to a German subsidiary.

“A certification for the operation of Nord Stream 2 will only be considered once the operator is organized in a legal shape compliant with German law,” it said.

Once these preconditions had been met, it said it could continue assessing the submission in the rest of the four-month application period. Before the suspension, that period was meant to run until early January.

Lawyers said the move, viewed by some gas market traders as politically charged, made sense from a regulatory perspective because it meant the pipeline’s operators in Germany would be answerable to local rules.

Essen-based law firm Rosin Buedenbender said a number of limited liability company options were available.

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION

Ukraine is one country bitterly opposed to the pipeline, which has fed into broader tensions between Kyiv and Moscow at a time when the United States has accused Russia of building up troops near Ukraine in preparation for a possible attack, an allegation the Kremlin has dismissed.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and Moscow-backed separatists took control of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine that same year.

The head of the Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz told Reuters that he welcomed the German energy regulator’s decision.

“Good,” Yuriy Vitrenko said. “This is an important point, which suggests that the German regulator shares our position that certification cannot only apply to the pipeline in Germany, but should apply to the entire pipeline from the territory of the Russian Federation to the territory of Germany.”

Kyiv will lose revenues if gas from Russia bypasses it and it accuses Moscow of using energy as a weapon to threaten Europe’s security.

Moscow has denied this and says Nord Stream 2 is a purely commercial venture that complies with European energy rules.

Ukraine has successfully applied to be part of the consultation process to certify the pipeline.

Moscow has already used a route under the Baltic Sea for Nord Stream 1 – the predecessor to Nord Stream 2 – which has a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters (bcm), equivalent to half Germany’s annual gas usage.

Nord Stream 2 will double that and make Germany a central arrival hub for European gas volumes for onward distribution.

The Berlin economy ministry and the European Commission have been made aware of its notice to Nord Stream 2.

The Commission has two months after the German regulator’s decision to assess the application for its part.

“Under the current circumstances there is further downside for the timing of the start-up of Nord Stream 2 because even though Germany is more friendly towards this project than EU, the pipeline’s regulatory certification could face even more hurdles during the EU commission review stage,” said Carlos Torres Diaz, head of gas and power markets at Rystad Energy.

(Reporting by Vera Eckert Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Pavel Polityuk, Nora Buli and Susanna Twidale; Writing by Pravin Char; Editing by Miranda Murray, Edmund Blair and Mark Potter)

Austria locks down unvaccinated as COVID cases surge across Europe

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria imposed a lockdown on people unvaccinated against the coronavirus on Monday as winter approaches and infections rise across Europe, with Germany considering tighter curbs and Britain expanding its booster program to younger adults.

Europe has again become the epicenter of the pandemic, prompting some countries to consider re-introducing restrictions in the run-up to Christmas and stirring debate over whether vaccines alone are enough to tame COVID-19.

The disease spreads more easily in the winter months when people gather inside.

Europe last week accounted for more than half of the 7-day average of infections globally and about half of latest deaths, according to a Reuters tally, the highest levels since April last year when the virus was at its initial peak in Italy.

Governments and companies are worried the prolonged pandemic will derail a fragile economic recovery.

Austria’s conservative-led government said that about two million people in the country of roughly nine million were now only allowed to leave their homes for a limited number of reasons like travelling to work or shopping for essentials.

But there is widespread skepticism, including among conservatives and the police, about how the lockdown can be enforced – it will be hard to verify, for example, whether someone is on their way to work, which is allowed, or going to shop for non-essential items, which is not.

“My aim is very clear: to get the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, not to lock up the unvaccinated,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told ORF radio as he explained the lockdown, which was announced on Sunday.

The aim is to counter a surge in infections to record levels fueled by a full vaccination rate of only around 65% of the population, one of the lowest in western Europe.

Pensioner Susanne Zwach said the lockdown would be “very, very difficult” to police.

“It is definitely a way of introducing a requirement to get vaccinated through the back door,” she said as she waited in line for her booster shot.

‘STORM OF INFECTION’

Germany’s federal government and leaders of Germany’s 16 states are due to discuss new pandemic measures this week.

Three German state health ministers urged parties negotiating to form a new government to prolong the states’ power to implement stricter measures such as lockdowns or school closures as the seven-day COVID incidence rate hit record highs.

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged unvaccinated people to reconsider their decision in a video message on Saturday.

“Difficult weeks lie ahead of us, and you can see that I am very worried,” Merkel said, speaking in her weekly video podcast.

France, the Netherlands and many countries in Eastern Europe are also experiencing a surge in infections.

Britain is to extend its COVID-19 booster vaccine rollout to people between 40 and 49, officials said on Monday, to boost waning immunity ahead of the colder winter months.

Currently all people 50 and over, those who are clinically vulnerable and frontline health workers are eligible for boosters.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he saw no need to move to a “Plan B” of mask mandates and vaccine passes, even though he was cautious of rising infections in Europe.

“We’re sticking with Plan A,” he said in a broadcast clip on Monday. “But what we certainly have got to recognize is there is a storm of infection out there in parts of Europe.”

Back in Austria, skepticism about vaccines is encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third-biggest in parliament, which is planning a protest against the government’s coronavirus policies on Saturday.

Party head Herbert Kickl, 53, said in a Facebook posting he had tested positive for COVID-19. He has mild symptoms and no fever but will not be able to attend Saturday’s protest because of quarantine requirements.

(Additional reporting by Lisi Niesner in Vienna, Josephine Mason and Alistair Smout in London, Emilio Parodi in Milan and Victoria Waldersee and Maria Sheahan in Berlin; Writing by Nick Macfie, Editing by William Maclean and Philippa Fletcher)

Blinken meets Ukraine official, warns Russia on natgas supplies

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is watching for signs that Russia may be using energy as a political tool in Europe’s energy crunch, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, adding that Washington was committed to take appropriate action, along with Germany, if Moscow were to take that path.

Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met at the State Department and signed a charter on a strategic partnership. Discussions focused on Ukraine’s neighbor, Russia, which Kuleba said was already using gas supplies as a weapon.

Blinken said Washington was also concerned by reports of “unusual Russian military activity” near Russia’s border with Ukraine, warning that escalatory or aggressive action would be of concern to the United States.

“Should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine, we are committed, and Germany is committed, to taking appropriate action,” Blinken said, adding that Washington was “watching very carefully for signs” that Russia was using energy as a weapon as it has in the past.

Russia has been accused of holding back energy supplies amid record high gas prices, but Putin has blamed the EU’s energy policy and said Russia can boost supplies to Europe once the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline gets approved.

“Russia could and should take steps to alleviate the energy crunch by increasing gas supplies,” said Blinken.

Washington opposes the $11 billion pipeline, currently nearing completion, which runs under the Baltic Sea to carry gas from Russia’s Arctic region to Germany.

The Biden administration has waived sanctions on the pipeline’s operator and reached an agreement with Germany in July over the pipeline. Germany agreed to take action if Russia uses energy as a weapon in its relations with Ukraine, but the pact did not provide a specific criteria for how that would be judged.

The United States was looking to Germany to “make good on” its promise to make sure that Nord Stream 2 is not a substitute for transit deliveries of gas though Ukraine,” Blinken said.

“What we see is that Russia is already using gas as a weapon,” Kuleba said in response, adding that Ukraine wanted Germany to use its “leverage” over Russia

“Russia should receive a very strong message not only from the United States and from other capitals, but also from Berlin, that this is not the game that will benefit Russia.”

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP

In the charter signed on Wednesday, the United States vowed to support Ukraine’s efforts to counter armed aggression, economic and energy disruptions and malicious cyber activity by Russia, including by maintaining sanctions on Russia, and applying other relevant measures.

Washington remained committed to assisting Ukraine with continuing its robust training exercises and reiterated that it supported Kyiv’s efforts to maximize its status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.

Kuleba underscored the importance of support from the United States and added that Ukraine would benefit from any potential defense cooperation that would strengthen its capabilities including intelligence sharing or air defense systems.

“We are in a situation where we cannot allow losing or wasting any time and we are looking forward to working with the United States in this field,” he said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chris Reese)