Russia has not been a “reliable” source of energy for Europe


On October 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia could increase gas supplies to Europe to ease the burden of rising natural gas prices.

Some contract prices for natural gas are said to have increased 400% or more since the start of 2021. One of the factors behind this increase was a cold winter last year, which resulted in unusually high demand and depleted gas reserves. .

Putin blamed the high prices on “hasty” and “politically motivated” measures, such as the search for energy alternatives. He then presented Russia as a reliable energy supplier for Europe.

“Russia has always been a reliable supplier of gas to consumers around the world, in Europe and Asia, and has always fully fulfilled all of its obligations,” he said.

It is misleading. In fact, Russia has used its abundant natural gas reserves as political leverage over Europe.

Construction of Nord Stream II, a new pipeline transporting Russian gas through the North Sea to Germany, is nearing completion. Nevertheless, a long certification process needs to be resolved before Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, can start using the pipeline. Russia urged Berlin to speed up the certification process, hinting that the new pipeline could solve the current crisis.

In the meantime, Russia has been accused of deliberately cutting back on gas supplies that would normally pass through Ukraine.

In September, the head of Naftogaz, Ukraine’s national oil and gas company, told CNBC that Russia was withholding gas supplies from the Ukrainian grid, and therefore from Ukraine and the rest of Europe. Later in September, Gazprom signed an agreement to supply gas to Hungary via Turkstream, a Black Sea pipeline that also bypasses Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine have been in conflict since Russia’s armed takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, and Moscow continues to support an armed separatist movement in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

In response, the United States imposed sanctions on Russian companies and vessels involved in Nord Stream II. However, in May, the United States issued waivers for the company operating Nord Stream II, as well as its CEO Matthias Warnig. In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a compromise with the United States to allow the completion of Nord Stream II without further sanctions.

At the time, Merkel was looking to assure Ukraine that she would benefit. She and US President Joe Biden have said they will not allow Russia to use Nord Stream II as a political weapon. In August, the United States announced new sanctions against Russian companies, ships and pipelines. The actions taken by the Biden administration, implementing some sanctions while waiving others, met with opposition from Congress.

The gas dispute is nothing new for Russia.

“Natural gas has been Putin’s power base both nationally and internationally for decades,” Penn State scholar Lena Surzhko Harned wrote in June. “Nord Stream 2 gives the Russian leader a direct and powerful new line of control in Western Europe.”

In 2009, during a dispute between the Ukrainian Naftogaz and the Russian Gazprom, Putin accepted a proposal from the director of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, to cut gas deliveries via Ukraine.

Although the cuts did not lead to large-scale disruptions in gas deliveries to most EU countries, several Balkan countries were affected, as well as Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia has also been involved in disputes with its neighbor Belarus over gas deliveries.

Ukraine has collected billions of dollars a year in fees to move gas through its pipeline network from Russia to Europe. But not only the costs are threatened by Nord Stream II. As Aura Sabadus pointed out in an article for the Atlantic Council, the reorientation of gas flows around Ukraine via Nord Stream II could deprive Ukraine’s Black Sea regions of the gas they need. Several of these regions are close to Crimea.

On October 13, Putin again blamed Europe for high gas prices and challenged claims that Russia was playing politics with gas. He claimed that Russia could not increase its supplies through Ukraine due to a lack of repairs and maintenance in the country’s delivery network.

“Everyone keeps hinting [to] us: to further increase the supply through Ukraine, ”Putin said, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.

“It’s dangerous to increase it!” The gas transit system has not been repaired for decades. If we increase the pressure, the pipe will probably burst. Europe will find itself without this road at all.

This claim, however, was clouded by Putin’s own spokesman Dmitry Peskov on the same day. Unlike his boss, Peskov said the problem of booking more gas through Ukraine was a matter of “competitive transit conditions”.

According to TASS, Peskov said that Kiev should go to “buyers of gas in Europe, European companies. They can exactly strike a new long-term deal with the Russian monopoly with increased quantities, given the growing demand for gas. gas”.

Referring to the words of his own boss on the same day, Peskov said:

“The President reiterated if our gas purchases continue, if contracts are increased and if Ukraine makes competitive trade offers, all of this will continue to work.”

Yet, according to TASS, Peskov did not say anything about dangerous pipelines.

In other words, the reliability of Russia as a supplier remains uncertain.


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