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Exclusive-Nord Stream turbine stuck in transit as Moscow drags feet on permits: sources

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FILE PHOTO: Pipes at the landfall facilities of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline in Lubmin, Germany
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By Holger Hansen

BERLIN (Reuters) - A missing turbine that Moscow says has caused the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to pump less gas to Europe is stuck in transit in Germany because Russia has so far not given the go-ahead to transport it back, two people familiar with the matter said.

The turbine, which usually operates at the Russian Portovaya compressor station, had been undergoing maintenance in Canada but was flown back to Cologne, Germany, on July 17 by logistics firm Challenge Group, one of the people said.

It is currently unclear when the turbine can be returned, the people said, adding this could still take days or even weeks.

The transport back to Germany happened after weeks of consultations between Berlin and the Canadian government over whether such a move would violate Western sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Last month, Moscow cut the capacity of Nord Stream 1 by 60%, citing the delayed return of the turbine being serviced by German power equipment company Siemens Energy.

Russia reopened the pipeline on Thursday after a ten-day scheduled maintenance shutdown, but it was still operating at reduced capacity.

Germany dismisses Russia's argument that the missing turbine is the reason for lower supplies via Nord Stream 1, and has accused Moscow of using gas flows as a political weapon.

Russia has said that the return of the turbine had a direct impact on the pipeline's safe operation, adding documentation from Siemens Energy needed to reinstall it was still missing.

One of the sources said Moscow had so far not provided the documents needed to import the turbine into Russia, including details on where exactly to deliver it and via which customs station.

"Under normal circumstances, the maintenance of turbines is a routine operation for us," Siemens Energy said in a statement. "Naturally, we want to transport the turbine to its place of operation as quickly as possible. However, the time it takes is not exclusively within our control."

The Kremlin said earlier on Thursday that all difficulties with the supply of Russian natural gas to Europe, including the turbine issue, were caused by Western restrictions, and that Russia remained an indispensable part of European energy security.

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said of the turbine earlier on Thursday: "Sometimes one has the impression that Russia no longer wants to take it back.

"That means the pretext of technical problems actually has a political background, and that is the opposite of being a guarantor for energy security in Europe."

Habeck said the government was in close contact with Siemens Energy and that it would communicate when the turbine arrives in Russia and has been handed over to Nord Stream's majority-owner Gazprom.

A spokesperson for Germany's Economy Ministry declined to comment further. Challenge Group, the logistics company, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gazprom, Russia's natural gas export monopoly, did not reply to repeated requests for comment on Nord Stream 1 and turbines.

(Reporting by Holger Hansen; Editing by Peter Graff)

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