The chess game played by the European Union and Russia with gas reaches a key move this Thursday. The annual review of the Nord Stream gas pipeline ends this morning, and the Kremlin must decide whether to resume supplies or further tighten the community bloc in its fight for sanctions stemming from the Ukraine offensive. Both sides need each other: Winter is approaching and Europe is trying to hoard reserves for a possible Russian shutdown, and the Kremlin needs foreign exchange to fuel its war machine and an economy that has almost all doors closed to the outside world.
The first Nord Stream is crucial for Europe and especially for the German locomotive. It was inaugurated in 2011 and has a capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year. For comparison: in 2021, the community bloc imported 155 billion from all over the world. A decade ago, the good relations between Berlin and Moscow gave rise to the idea of building a second part, Nord Stream 2, which opposed the remaining partners in Eastern Europe and Ukraine because they felt that the Kremlin would do so in the event of an attack could divide Europe. Its construction ended last January and Brussels has never authorized its use. However, Putin does not see himself defeated and recently insisted again on the resumption of the great project while closing other gas pipelines at the same time: “We have another pipeline ready, Nord Stream 2, and it can go into operation.”
In any event, Nord Stream’s resumption of pumping could be very limited. It has been operating at 40% of its capacity since June on the grounds that Canada blocked the return of a turbine engine due to sanctions, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning last Monday that supply could be even lower.
This Tuesday, at a meeting with journalists in Tehran, the president said that Gazprom not only does not have this part repaired in the North American country, but that another one is defective because an inner panel was torn. Putin added that two turbines have been working so far, delivering about 60 million cubic meters per day, and if the replacement doesn’t arrive, pumping will fall even further. “That would be 30 million cubic meters a day,” he emphasized, referring to systems that can transport 167 million.
The head of Germany’s energy regulator, Klaus Mueller, warned on Wednesday that Nord Stream would start up again, but only at 30 percent of its capacity. “It’s better than nothing, but it’s not what was contracted,” he told Reuters. “If we get that 30%, that could help with storage [gas]But we have to wait,” he added.
Europe’s gas reserves have already reached 64.4% of total capacity, although the International Energy Agency (IEA) warns that these should fill 90% of storage with the onset of October cold weather. Its director, Fatih Birol, this week praised how the community block has replaced Russian gas so far. In particular, Europe has increased imports of liquefied natural gas and is gradually increasing purchases of pipeline gas from other regions of the world.
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However, the IEA recommended placing significantly more emphasis on reducing gas consumption and raising awareness of the plight the continent is in after the Russian offensive. Birol proposed not only to temporarily switch to coal, but also to compensate the industry that has contracted energy for spending less and reducing electricity consumption in administration. According to his calculations, reducing the air conditioning of homes in Europe by a few degrees would compensate for the complete closure of Nord Stream in winter.
Brussels fears that Russia will turn off the tap completely in the face of sanctions as a pressure measure. “Russia is blackmailing us. Use energy as a weapon. That is why Europe must be prepared in the face of an important partial or full cut in Russian gas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Wednesday, presenting a plan for member states to cut their gas needs by 15%.
This proposal met with frontal resistance from Spain. The Minister for Ecological Change, Teresa Ribera, rejected the measure: “Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our means in terms of energy.”
“There is no excuse”
According to Von der Leyen, Russia would have no excuse to boycott delivery via Nord Stream. “The turbine is on its way, it will arrive on time. There is no excuse for not delivering the gas,” he explained, adding that there are other turbine models that could be used to replace the current ones.
However the castling en Nord Stream is not the only move in this chess where both sides accuse each other of lying. The Soyuz gas pipeline passes through Ukraine on its way to the European Union. Since May, the operator of the gas transmission system of Ukraine (GTSOU) has been asking Gazprom to divert electricity from the pumping station Soyranivka to the pumping station Sudia, which moves the most volume, because the territorial separatists have been extracting there gas bought by the European Union.
The Russian gas giant refused “for technical reasons”. However, GTSOU emphasizes that Sudia will pass between 40 and 60 million cubic meters per day when it has a maximum capacity of 244 million. Putin gave another version: “[Sojranivka] came under the control of the Lugansk People’s Republic [una de las provincias separatistas prorrusas en Ucrania] few months ago and they are now closing it with no reason. Everything worked normally there, nobody interfered, and suddenly it was closed for political reasons.”
Another move in this game took place in Poland. The Kremlin completely shut off the tap through the Yamal gas pipeline in May because Warsaw refused to pay for its gas in rubles. The reason for this was that Putin, in view of the sanctions against his banks, had ordered Gazprom customers to open a special account with a subsidiary of the gas company in order to convert their payments into Russian currency there. Poland refused, as did Bulgaria and Finland, citing the legal issues it could pose for future litigation.
However, Warsaw began buying part of the Russian gas imported by Germany from Berlin, which was also criticized by Putin. “It is advantageous for German companies to sell to Poland for a small premium, and for Poland it is more advantageous because it is cheaper than buying directly from us, but the volume of gas on the European market has decreased and its overall price has increased . . Who benefited? All Europeans lost,” the Russian President stressed.
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