Russia cuts gas flow to Europe, heightening fears it is weaponizing fuel

BERLIN — On the eve of an emergency European Union meeting on cutting natural gas consumption, Russia’s state gas monopoly said on Monda...

BERLIN — On the eve of an emergency European Union meeting on cutting natural gas consumption, Russia’s state gas monopoly said on Monday it would cut gas supplies to Germany , as President Vladimir V. Putin once again showed his unpredictability and power to inflict pain on the bloc in support of Ukraine.

EU energy ministers are due to meet on Tuesday to weigh a 15% cut in gas consumption, not least amid fears the Kremlin could create artificial shortages threatening heat and power generation during the winter . As if to confirm those concerns, Gazprom, the Russian company, said on Monday it would halve throughput on its pipeline to Germany to just 20% of capacity – less than one week after the resumption of limited flows following a maintenance shutdown.

Western officials dismissed the Russian explanation for the equipment problems – coincidence or not, with the German equipment – ​​as nothing more than a cover for its manipulation. “Based on our information, there are no technical reasons for a reduction in deliveries,” the German economy ministry said in a statement.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, said last week: ‘Putin is trying to hustle us this winter’ as she proposed that member countries reduce fuel consumption by 15% until next spring. The reduction aims to build up depleted stores and better position themselves for possible Russian pressure.

“This is exactly the kind of scenario President von der Leyen was referring to last week,” her spokesperson said Monday. “This development validates our analysis.”

But as Western nations attempt to curb the flow of fossil fuel revenue that sustains the Russian government, its war machine and much of its economy, their measures have required a daunting combination of deals between them, assuaging the public opinion in their democracies and guiding global markets. . News of Gazprom’s latest supply cut pushed the price of European gas futures up 12% on Monday; the price, previously below 30 euros per megawatt hour, has skyrocketed over the past year, sometimes exceeding 180 euros or 184 dollars.

The autocratic Mr Putin has shown since his invasion of Ukraine in February that he has lots of leverage on his side, in particular to tighten or loosen the tap of energy, and can use it at his sole discretion. He has also demonstrated his talent for leaving adversaries in limbo and throwing them off balance, with his government often sending mixed signals.

On Friday, Russia signed an agreement to allow grain shipments of the blocked port of Odessa to alleviate a global food shortage – and a day later hit the port with missiles, jeopardizing the agreement. Even so, Ukraine said on Monday it was moving forward with the plan and a United Nations spokesman said the first ship could set sail within days.

Western countries stop most Russian oil imports. But it has contributed to shortages that have driven up prices, inflated Kremlin revenues and angered Western consumers, as Moscow strikes deals to sell to China and India. The Biden administration is trying to orchestrate an international deal to cap the prices Russia can charge in global oil markets, but it’s a financial and diplomatically complex effort.

It took weeks of wrangling for the European Union agree to cut off most Russian oiland the conclusion of the agreement required delaying certain parts for several months and granting exemptions to certain small countries.

New divisions emerged over the EU’s proposal to cut gas consumption, as countries like Greece and Spain, which do not rely heavily on Russian gas, chafed at the idea of ​​asking companies and individuals to retain to help Germany, their wealthiest northern partner. And European officials are racing to offer alternative supplies from the Middle East, the United States and elsewhere.

The latest supply cut should make it clear to the 27 EU member countries how vulnerable they are and how crucial it is that they act quickly and decisively to conserve gas, said Simone Tagliapietra, senior researcher at Bruegel, a research institute based in Brussels. .

“Gazprom’s announcement should come as no surprise,” Tagliapietra said. “Russia is playing a strategic game here. Already weak fluctuating flows are better than a complete cut because they manipulate the market and optimize the geopolitical impact.

Russia usually supplies 40% of the gas used in the European Union, but the flow fell to less than a third of its average in June. Gas storage facilities in Europe, normally nearly full at this point of the year in anticipation of winter, are running low, leaving the whole continent vulnerable to shortages that would upend industry and private life.

Germany, with Europe’s largest economy, has been particularly dependent on Russia for gas, obtaining 55% of its supply before the invasion, although this has fallen sharply. The main channel for this supply is the 760-mile Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

In recent years, the pipeline has been closed for maintenance for approximately 10 days each July, but in 2020 and 2021 it operated at or near capacity before and after this closure. This year, Russia began cutting gas shipments as early as mid-June, so stocks were low at the time of the shutdown. Gazprom blamed the reduction on a missing turbine that had been shipped to Canada for repair by German company Siemens.

The turbine was sent back to Germany last week and is now heading to Russia. At the end of the maintenance period, Gazprom resumed throughput, but only at around 40% capacity. Then on Monday the company said it would drop to 20%, stating on his social media accounts that it was “stopping another gas turbine engine produced by Siemens”.

Hours before the announcement, the head of Germany’s agency that regulates utilities, Klaus Müller, said the country’s storage facilities had reached 65.9% capacity, on track to meet the target. 75% at the beginning of September. Now it is in question.

The European Commission’s conservation plan calls for a shared sacrifice – with the promise of aid to the countries most in difficulty – on the grounds that the EU economy is so integrated that a blow to a nation is a blow to all. This is all the more true since the most immediately vulnerable country, Germany, is the continent’s economic powerhouse.

Some member states in the southern bloc and beyond that use little gas or do not buy it mainly from Russia say the commission’s proposal makes little sense, but that some version of it could survive a vote. Unlike EU sanctions and the partial oil embargo, which require unanimity, the gas conservation plan only needs a “reinforced majority”, i.e. the support from 15 Member States representing 65% of the EU population.

The commission wants to take on the task of declaring an energy emergency if gas stocks fall below a certain level, allowing it to impose mandatory gas rationing. Such an unusual increase in its normal powers is unlikely to be accepted by EU countries, which do not like to cede their autonomy to the bloc.

The intensive discussions to prepare for the meeting over the past few days have focused on adjustments to make the proposal more flexible, shorten its duration and place national governments in the capitals of the European Union, rather than the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, responsible for implementing this.

Melissa Eddy reported from Berlin and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Richard Perez-Pena contributed reporting from New York.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russia cuts gas flow to Europe, heightening fears it is weaponizing fuel
Russia cuts gas flow to Europe, heightening fears it is weaponizing fuel
Newsrust - US Top News
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