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Germany panicked. Its Chancellor leaned on Canada. Canada caved. And Russia got what it wanted.

That, in short, was what unfolded this week, leading two countries that have been among the most resolute in the economic effort to counter Vladimir Putin’s war of conquest against Ukraine to agree to give Mr. Putin a banned piece of technology that provides him both a propaganda victory and a potential source of revenue to finance his war.

From these comparatively calm shores, the decision appeared wrong and purposeless. It looks more understandable, politically and emotionally at least, if you’ve been observing the mood of wild-eyed anxiety and dark prognostication that has overcome the people and media of Germany. It’s still the wrong decision, but you can see where it came from.

It’s all about turbines, and the natural gas they’re meant to pump. After weeks of pressure from German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed this week to return to their Russian operators (via a German company) a set of pipeline-pump turbines that had been sent to Montreal for maintenance, and kept there after Canada outlawed the export of equipment to Russia. Those turbines are needed for the operation of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which carries Russian gas to Europe. That gas provides Russia with its largest single source of foreign income and Germany with about 40 per cent of its natural gas.

Returning the turbines breaks the sanctions law passed by Mr. Trudeau’s government, and the dramatic pledge made in February by Mr. Scholz to end his country’s 50-year economic relationship with Russia, financially isolate Mr. Putin, arm Ukraine and remove Germany from Russian energy supplies as soon as possible.

Those pledges have taken longer than expected to bring to fruition. Independence from Russian energy was meant to wait until this coming winter, when storage reservoirs are full and new supplies are online.

But Berlin has known from the beginning that Mr. Putin might take revenge by cutting off all gas supply, with or without turbines. And Mr. Scholz planned for that possibility: He went to the Persian Gulf and made liquid natural gas deals with autocrats somewhat less awful than Mr. Putin; he negotiated to have non-Russian pipelines moved to full capacity; and his economy minister Robert Habeck launched a campaign to persuade Germans to use less gas.

On one hand, that campaign has been successful – it has already caused German businesses and households to reduce gas consumption by 15 per cent. It has sometimes been lighthearted: Mr. Habeck, from the Green Party, boasted that he has never taken a shower longer than five minutes and plans to reduce that; he was one-upped with a macho boast by Wolfgang Kubicki of the Free Democratic Party that he, like many Germans, showers with cold water only.

But Mr. Habeck’s messaging has been misleadingly apocalyptic. This week, he warned of a “nightmare scenario” that will “put Germany to a crucial test the likes of which we haven’t had for a long time.” Rainer Dulger, head of the national employers’ association, declared that “we are facing the biggest crisis this country has ever had” – quite a statement from a German official.

The media has amplified this further. The popular magazine Der Spiegel warns, in Wagnerian language, of a “Gas-dammerung,” – “gas twilight,” suggesting an epic catastrophe. The tabloid Bild Zeitung has cover stories predicting a return to the winters of the postwar 1940s, when millions of Germans were homeless, and some froze or starved. The notion that households might go without heat, or even electricity, has become a theme on German TV panels.

In fact, there is no realistic risk of households in Germany going cold. Houses and apartments only account for a third of Germany’s gas consumption, and utilities are legally required to give them priority. The country’s gas reserves are already more than 60-per-cent full, higher than they were this time last year and not much below where they were at the start of last winter. Even without Nord Stream, gas reserves will probably be sufficient to get through the winter without much rationing, and that rationing will be on the industrial side.

Mr. Habeck’s most serious warnings are not about the possibility of gas cutoff, but the reality of higher costs: Relying on non-Russian supplies will make gas bills very high. The state will surely have to go into debt to help the poor pay those bills. Germany’s huge export economy could be paralyzed.

A crashed economy and a population paralyzed with fear, rational or otherwise, are not good things for governing coalitions. Gas costs are going to be very high with or without Nord Stream.

Giving Mr. Putin his turbines won’t change that. But it might create a public sense that something is being done. That’s the wrong reason to rescue a Russian pipeline – but it’s the reason that prevailed.

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