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Germany begins filling Rehden gas storage site

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(Corrects headline and paragraph 3 of MAY 5 story to say site is among the biggest storages in western Europe, not the biggest)

By Vera Eckert, Christoph Steitz and Tom Käckenhoff

FRANKFURT/DUESSELDORF (Reuters) -Germany has started filling the huge Rehden gas storage facility abandoned by Russia's Gazprom, the site's state-appointed manager said on Thursday, as Europe's biggest economy looks to guard against the risk of Moscow turning off supplies.

Russian gas is vital to Europe and Germany in particular. But supplies have been thrown into doubt by Western sanctions over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine and a looming deadline set by Russia for payments in roubles, which most buyers have rejected.

Gazprom last month ditched its Gazprom Germania business, including Rehden, which is one of western Europe's biggest gas storage sites, as diplomatic relations deteriorated.

"From today, small volumes are being injected," Egbert Laege, the trustee appointed by Germany's energy regulator to temporarily manage the company, told Reuters in his first interview in the role.

"We are working intensively on solutions to ensure that already soon significantly more gas can flow into the storage facility."

Rehden can hold around 4 billion cubic metres of gas but received only small amounts last winter. Laege said it was clear it needed to be filled for the coming winter.

Rehden is currently just 0.6% full, far below the 36% average for Germany's gas storage facilities.

The regulator has said it will control Gazprom Germania until Sept. 30 and has the right to remove executives, hire new staff and tell management how to proceed. It has not said what will happen after that date.

"We have made good progress in stabilising the activities of Gazprom Germania Group in uncertain times," Laege said, adding he was in regular contact with the Economy Ministry, Germany's network regulator and the group's business partners.

"All of them recognise the huge importance of the Gazprom Germania Group for secure gas supplies. The trust of our business partners is perhaps our most important asset. I will do my utmost to maintain and strengthen this trust."

(Reporting by Vera Eckert, Christoph Steitz and Tom KaeckenhoffEditing by Maria Sheahan and MarkPotter)

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