10/09/2021, 09.28
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Moscow uses gas to blackmail Europe

by Vladimir Rozanskij


Record price rises in the Old Continent due to increased demand and low reserves. Putin is demanding that the increased volumes be passed on through the new Russian-German Nord Stream-2 pipeline. The Kremlin wants to subject the EU to its own conditions and cut off the Ukrainian route.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The record rise in the price of gas in Europe, which is equivalent to almost 200 dollars a barrel of oil, has given Russia and its giant Gazprom an extraordinary weapon to put pressure on its Western partners. Putin has already reassured the markets by offering increases in Russian gas supplies, but these will come at a cost in redefining the energy market in Russia's favour, starting with the much-discussed Nord Stream-2 pipeline.

Expert Nikolaj Podlevskikh, interviewed by Rbk says, "those who urge us to look at the whole set of factors that caused this crisis are right: the increase in demand in Latin America, South-East Asia and obviously China. This led to a generalised panic and a resulting crisis, which depleted European deposits by 15%, and to speculation that spilled over into the energy market". 

Podlevskikh explains that Gazprom is undoubtedly one of the players most affected by the vertiginous rise: "But Russia is still honouring its contractual commitments in the sector, and you cannot blame it for the crisis."

There is a serious danger that Europe will be forced to suffer the cold next winter, not least because of the threats of climate change. Russia will increase its share of existing contracts with European partners to 108-112%, boosting its bargaining power. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been the main supporter of Nord Stream-2, has proposed a plan to end dependence on Russian gas by 2045. While increasing and diversifying production from alternative sources, the plan seems unrealistic.

Another Russian expert, Mikhail Krutikhin, in an interview with Currentime.tv, commented on the "white strike" (Russian for "Italian strike") implemented by Gazprom itself to maintain control over production and trade with foreign partners, limiting itself to strict compliance with contractual terms. In his opinion, this is a form of blackmail "until the new gas volumes from Nord Stream-2 are accepted, despite the fact that there are simpler alternatives available such as the Ukrainian route, which would be used immediately if Russia were really interested in saving Europe from freezing". The Baltic route would in fact not increase volumes, but merely divert them.

As Krutikhin explains, Gazprom would have every interest in increasing contracts using the routes already in operation, but the Russian energy giant "is not just a commercial enterprise, it is more correct to call it a political tool of the Kremlin, which can give up huge profits just to force Europeans to submit to Russia's conditions, cutting off Ukraine". The expert believes that in reality the gas reserves in Europe are not in as bad a condition as they are being portrayed, and the panic only serves to play into the hands of speculators and political strategies.

The Ukrainians are trying to convince Europeans not to submit to Russian blackmail by ensuring the viability of gas supplies through its territory. As the head of the "Ukrainian Energy Operators", Sergei Makogon, said in Brussels, speaking at the NATO meeting on energy security, "the basic aims of the Russian aggressor are to weaken the security of Ukraine and create a schism within the European Union".

According to the Ukrainians, Putin wants to cancel all international agreements, under which all Asian gas to Europe will have to pass through Ukraine after 2024.

European Council President Charles Michel chose the cautious line, stating that "we will have to assess the situation with great attention to all factors; we must prepare for an in-depth debate on this issue, together with all Europeans, in order to have a complete picture of the situation". He hoped that winter would not come too soon. 

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