December 3, 2021
EXPLAINER: Europe lacks natural gas. Is it Russia's fault?

EXPLAINER: Europe lacks natural gas. Is it Russia’s fault?

FRANKFURT, Germany — Europe is wanting natural fuel — dangerously brief. A chilly winter might imply a extreme crunch, and utility payments are headed larger, burdening odd individuals and weighing on the financial restoration from the coronavirus pandemic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised to assist fill European fuel storages as power costs soar — however provide shortages and political tensions have continued to rattle power markets, retaining costs excessive. That is pinched companies and compelled them to go alongside prices to prospects already going through larger payments at dwelling.

Moscow has been accused of utilizing the unstable state of affairs to push for a fast launch of a newly constructed Russian pipeline below the Baltic Sea: Nord Stream 2, which is awaiting German regulators’ approval and has been criticized by Ukraine, the U.S. and others.

With Europe depending on imported fuel and Russia supplying 40% or extra of these imports, Putin has leverage. He is stated the brand new pipeline already is crammed with fuel and will assist enhance provides “the day after” it’s authorised.

Listed below are vital components behind the fuel disaster:


A number of causes. One was a chilly winter that drained fuel reserves, that are used to generate electrical energy and sometimes replenished in summer time. That did not occur this 12 months.

Sizzling climate drained extra fuel than ordinary by way of demand for air con. Much less wind meant much less renewable electrical energy, main mills to achieve for fuel gas. Restricted provides of liquid natural fuel, an costly possibility that may be delivered by ship as an alternative of pipeline, have been snapped up by prospects in Asia.

On prime of that, Europe for years has pushed for day-to-day spot pricing, as an alternative of long-term contracts. Russian-controlled fuel big Gazprom has fulfilled these long-term contracts however hasn’t pumped further fuel past that. Putin says prospects who’ve these contracts pay a lot much less for fuel than different patrons.

Costs have been seven instances larger in October than they have been originally of the 12 months and have eased to about 4 instances larger these days.


Gazprom invested billions into constructing the 1,234-kilometer (765-mile) pipeline to Germany. It will enable Russia to promote fuel on to a significant buyer and circumvent a pipeline by way of Ukraine, which has confronted relentless stress from Russia following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea peninsula and its help for separatist rebels in Ukraine.

Even earlier than the 2014 hostilities, Moscow had launched efforts to diversify fuel provide routes to the European Union, saying the Ukrainian system is dilapidated and accusing the nation of siphoning fuel.

Ukraine stands to lose $2 billion in annual transit charges. It and Poland, which sits on one other bypassed pipeline, are fiercely against Nord Stream 2. The US and another nations even have been strongly important, warning the venture would enhance Europe’s power dependence on Russia.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated Monday that he hoped “other European countries may recognize that a choice is shortly coming, between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability.”

A number of analysts stated they don’t anticipate Nord Stream to return on line this winter — although there was hypothesis Europe would possibly enable fuel to start out flowing whereas regulators assessment it, maybe in alternate for sending extra fuel by way of Ukraine.


Gazprom says no. The pinnacle of its export department, Elena Burmistrova, stated this month that “we aren’t interested in either record low or record high gas prices,” including that “we want to see a well-balanced and predictable market.”

No less than some analysts agree.

Thomas O’Donnell, an power and geopolitical analyst on the Hertie College graduate college in Berlin, stated Russia needed to fill its personal fuel reserves — similar to the EU — after a chilly winter.

Whereas Putin relishes his position because the “gas godfather” and has exploited the scarcity to press for approval of Nord Stream 2, “the more mundane reality is … there simply has been no spare Russian gas to export until Russia finishes filling its own domestic storage for winter,” wrote O’Donnell, who blogs at “The godfather was bluffing.”

O’Donnell stated the one means for Russia to assist make up the fuel scarcity this winter could be to pump extra fuel by way of Ukraine — assuming Gazprom is keen to do this.

Putin ordered Gazprom to ship fuel into European storage after Russia completed filling its reserves final week, however “it’s limited,” O’Donnell stated. “He could be making a show of doing much more.”

U.S. officers agree.

“ Russia can and should provide additional supplies through Ukraine, which has sufficient pipeline capacity, and they don’t need Nord Stream 2 for that,” Karen Donfried, the highest U.S. diplomat for Europe, stated final week.

“And, if Russia fails to do that, obviously it’s going to hurt European energy security and bring into question what Russia’s motives are for withholding those supplies,” she stated.

By underlining Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel, Putin and Gazprom could hope for extra lenient EU market regulation of Nord Stream 2, O’Donnell stated.

The pipeline hit a delay Tuesday when German regulators suspended the approval course of due to a difficulty with the pipeline operator’s standing below German legislation.


Natural fuel costs will in the end be mirrored in dwelling and enterprise costs for electrical energy and fuel.

The European Fee, the EU’s govt arm, cited spiraling power prices as a drag on the pandemic restoration as a result of larger payments will take cash away from shopper spending and enterprise funding.

Europe’s tight market is echoing within the U.S., serving to increase costs there, although the U.S. market has not seen wherever close to Europe’s worth spike.


Analysts say it’s arduous to foretell. Everybody hopes there is not a giant late-winter storm that may threaten dwindled provides.

Analysts have speculated that electrical energy might be rationed — maybe for some industrial prospects at first — if issues get actually dangerous.

An power apocalypse — a complete lack of electrical energy or warmth if fuel reserves are drawn to zero and cannot be substituted — would doubtless trigger deaths amongst poor and weak populations, like what occurred in Texas this 12 months when a winter storm knocked out energy, resulting in greater than 200 deaths.


Poland and different EU nations accused authoritarian Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of utilizing migrants attempting to get to the EU by way of Belarus’ border with Poland as pawns to avenge sanctions over his authorities’s crackdown on protests.

With the EU threatening extra crippling sanctions, Lukashenko threatened to chop off Russian fuel provides to Europe that go by way of a pipeline in Belarus.

Though his assertion additional rattled the markets, it’s unlikely Lukashenko would be capable of fulfill his menace, given his political dependence on Russia and Moscow’s need to keep up the repute of a dependable provider.

Valery Karbalevich, an impartial Belarusian political analyst, dismissed Lukashenko’s menace as bluster.

“The decisions are made in Moscow, not Minsk,” he stated. “Lukashenko wants to scare the EU and drag Putin into the confrontation, trying to provoke the Kremlin to take a more radical action.”


Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Related Press journalist Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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