BERLIN — Germany began preparing for eventual shortages of natural gas on Wednesday, as the country’s economy minister pointed to growing concerns that Russia could cut off deliveries unless payments on existing contracts are made in rubles.
The government activated the first step of a national gas emergency plan that could, eventually, lead to rationing of natural gas. Wednesday’s action — the first step, or “early warning stage” — involves setting up a crisis team of representatives from the federal and state governments, regulators and private industry, said Robert Habeck, the economy minister and vice chancellor.
The move illustrates the risk facing European countries that rely on Russian oil and gas as the war in Ukraine drags on. On Monday, energy ministers from the Group of 7 nations rejected a demand by Russia that it be paid in rubles. Several European energy companies have said payment in rubles would require a renegotiation of long-term contracts.
“We will not accept any breech of the private contracts,” Mr. Habeck said.
The ongoing standoff is part of attempts from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to push back against a wide-ranging raft of economic sanctions aimed at punishing the Kremlin for invading neighboring Ukraine.
“We must increase precautionary measures to be prepared for an escalation on the part of Russia,” Mr. Habeck told reporters. “With the declaration of the early warning level, a crisis team has convened.”
The team will meet daily to monitor the situation and establish measures that could be taken if supplies start running low, which Mr. Habeck stressed is not yet the case. Only if the situation were critical enough would the government intervene to begin rationing natural gas supplies. In that case, according to a planning document, households and critical public services, including hospitals and emergency services, would be prioritized over industry.
Roughly half of Germany’s homes rely on natural gas for their heating, and 55 percent of the country’s gas comes from Russia. It arrives via overland pipelines through Ukraine and Poland, and through the original Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea. A sister pipeline that was awaiting German approval, Nord Stream 2, was effectively frozen by the government two days before Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine.
“Security of supply continues to be guaranteed,” Mr. Habeck said. “There are currently no supply bottlenecks. Nevertheless, we must increase precautionary measures to be prepared for an escalation on the part of Russia.”
Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy company, said on Wednesday it had continued to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers, and that flows remained high. Gas was also flowing westward through a pipeline that crosses Poland from Russia for the first time since March 15, it said.
Moscow has not said when the demands for ruble payments will begin, but it is expected to present its plans later this week.
On Wednesday, Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, said “payments and deliveries take some time. It doesn’t mean that everything that gets delivered tomorrow must be paid for by the evening. It is a process that is stretched in time.”
Russia’s top lawmaker warned on Wednesday that oil, grain, metals, fertilizer, coal and timber exports could also soon be priced the same way.
Mr. Habeck also urged German consumers and companies to already begin making efforts to cut their energy use wherever possible. “Every kilowatt-hour counts,” he said.
Ivan Nechepurenkocontributed reporting.
A group of attorneys general on Tuesday asked Snap and TikTok to work more closely with parental control apps and to apply more scrutiny to inappropriate content on their platforms, the latest salvo in a growing fight over child protection between governments and social media companies.
Attorneys general from 43 states and territories said in a letter to executives at the two apps that they were worried the companies were “not taking appropriate steps to allow parents to protect their kids on your platforms.” Specifically, the officials said that Snap, which makes the Snapchat app, and TikTok should work more closely with third-party parental control services.
Some people have raised concerns that third-party parental controls surveil young people but do little to actually stop them from encountering harmful content. The attorneys general said in the letter, organized by the National Association of Attorneys General, that they were not endorsing a particular parental control product. They also called on the companies to tighten their own parental supervision tools and to do a better job of weeding out content that might be harmful to children.
Concerns that popular social media platforms can expose children to posts that are sexualized, hurt their body image or are violent have escalated in recent years. State attorneys general are currently investigating whether Facebook, owned by Meta, and TikTok, part of the Chinese conglomerate ByteDance, have put young people in harm’s way. President Biden also called for new online privacy rules for children in his State of the Union speech earlier this month.
The interest in the issue is global. Britain has laid out guidelines for how tech companies can design services without violating a child’s privacy, prompting some companies to introduce new parental controls around the world. Britain is also currently considering sweeping online safety legislation that would be enforced by its media regulator.
“We’re currently developing new tools for parents that will provide them with more insight and visibility into how their children are engaging on Snapchat and ways to report troubling content,” said Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for Snap. She said the tools would debut “in the coming months.”
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said the company appreciated “that the state attorneys general are focusing on the safety of younger users, and we look forward to engaging with them on our existing features and ideas for future innovation in this area.”
The media measurement firm Nielsen Holdings, facing intense competition and criticism as it tries to make the transition to digital audience tracking from its longstanding TV business, said on Tuesday that it had agreed to be acquired by a private equity consortium for $16 billion, including debt.
The group, led by Evergreen Coast Capital — an affiliate of the activist firm Elliott Investment Management — and Brookfield Business Partners, offered $28 a share for Nielsen. The price was a 60 percent premium over Nielsen’s stock price on March 11, before rumors of a deal surfaced, and a 10.2 percent improvement on the consortium’s previous proposal, which Nielsen rejected this month.
Dave Gregory, a managing partner at Brookfield, said in a statement that Nielsen was “deeply embedded in the media ecosystem.”
“As a private company, Nielsen will be even better positioned to deliver the best measures of consumers’ rapidly changing behaviors across all channels and platforms,” he added.
Nielsen has been under pressure from media platforms and the advertising industry to accurately measure audiences not just on traditional television but also on streaming services and the internet. Powerful media executives have complained for years that Nielsen, which is nearly a century old, uses antiquated methods that struggle to measure viewers’ new habits.
The Media Rating Council stripped Nielsen of its accreditation for local and national television measurement last year. Last month, Discovery and Omnicom Media Group said that advertising clients including AT&T and State Farm would experiment with using video audience estimates from Comscore and VideoAmp, two other media measurement firms. Last week, NBCUniversal said it would offer advertisers guarantees using data from iSpot rather than relying solely on Nielsen.
Nielsen stock was up more than 20 percent on Tuesday. The company can entertain other bids during a 45-day go-shop period. Otherwise, the deal is expected to close in the second half of the year.