Russian gas maintenance puts EU on edge
Russian gas maintenance puts EU on edge
The European Union, which itself imposed a draft of sanctions against Russia and the country’s energy exports, has been left anxious after Moscow began annual maintenance work on its biggest gas pipeline to Germany. 

TEHRAN (Iran News) – The European Union, which itself imposed a draft of sanctions against Russia and the country’s energy exports, has been left anxious after Moscow began annual maintenance work on its biggest gas pipeline to Germany.

There are fears in Europe that Russia will prolong the scheduled maintenance beyond what usually takes around ten days, which would limit gas supplies to Europe even further.

Europe is trying to ween itself off Russian gas entirely by the end of the year.

But there is an obvious irony here, as the EU itself imposed punitive measures on Russian energy exports yet European countries are worried about a rise in inflation and even a recession if maintenance on the Russian pipeline known as Nord Stream 1 takes longer than usual.

The maintenance work is a routine procedure Moscow carries out every year and it’s not uncommon that the maintenance work would take longer than ten days, but the gas flow to Europe would be halted for at least ten days.

Experts say the unease among European nations over any possible hiccups in the Nord Stream 1 maintenance offers an indication of just how dependent European nations are on foreign energy supplies particularly Russian gas at the moment.

On one hand, Europe doesn’t want Russian gas and on the other hand, Europe needs Russian gas and that’s what you call a dilemma.

Ahead of a long dark winter in Western Europe especially, the region relies on a significant amount of Russian gas, mostly to heat houses, factories, and workplaces during the frosty weather conditions.

Any further disruption to Russian gas supplies is expected to trigger hikes in energy costs or even power outages.

In previous years the annual maintenance period on Nord Stream 1 had lasted about ten to twelve days and had finished on time.

It is also quite common that other issues are detected during maintenance on a pipeline or gas infrastructure which would prolong the expected time it would take to resume gas supplies from Nord Stream 1.

European businesses have expressed concern that the Kremlin may extend the maintenance work time frame in a retaliatory move over the EU’s actions against Russia following Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine.

Governments, markets and companies have all expressed concern the temporary gas shutdown might be extended because of the conflict in Ukraine.

The Dutch energy minister Rob Jetten says “If Nord Stream gets cut off, or if Germany loses all its Russian imports, then the effect will be felt on the whole of north-western Europe,”

Last month, the German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Berlin should take all possibilities into consideration alleging that Moscow would suspend gas flows through Nord Stream 1 beyond the expected maintenance period.

“Based on the pattern we’ve seen, it would not be very surprising now if some small, technical detail is found and then they could say ‘now we can’t turn it on anymore’,” he said.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, has already hit back against such accusations that Russia would use its oil and gas exports to put pressure on European governments.

He says the maintenance shutdown of Nord Stream 1 was a regular, scheduled matter, and that no one was “inventing” any extra repairs to continue switching the taps off.

Nevertheless, the halt of Russian gas supplies for at least ten days has thrown some EU countries’ hopes of filling storage for the winter into chaos and added to an energy crisis prompting emergency measures from governments.

Those emergency measures mainly include alarmingly high energy bills for households, motorists, and other consumers. Essentially critics say government officials are not the ones who will feel the pinch of the increasing energy price bills; it’s average families that pay the costs.

The German government has moved to the second stage of a three-tier emergency gas plan, which is one step before the government announces the start of rationing how much fuel can be spent.

Europe’s strongest economy is also facing a recession if Russian gas flows are halted. Last month, data from the VBW industry association of the state of Bavaria revealed that the German economy would suffer losses of 193 billion euros ($195 billion) in the second half of this year.

“The abrupt end of Russian gas imports would also have a significant impact on the workforce in Germany … Around 5.6 million jobs would be affected by the consequences,” said Bertram Brossardt, VBW’s managing director.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline transports 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year of gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Maintenance usually starts around July 11 to 21. The pipeline’s operator Nord Stream AG has confirmed the shutdown started as planned at 0600 CET and that gas flows would drop to zero a few hours later.

Last month, Russia cut flows to 40 percent of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline’s total capacity pointing out the fact that equipment used for the pipeline, which is being serviced by the German company Siemens Energy in Canada has faced delays coming back.

Over the weekend, Canada said it would return a repaired turbine while the Canadian government also announced the expansion of sanctions against Russia’s energy sector.

Germany has welcomed Canada’s decision to issue a “time-limited and revocable permit” to allow equipment to be returned for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

However, the Ukrainian government said is was “deeply disappointed” and has called on Canada to reverse its decision.

For it’s part, Siemens Energy said it is working on further formal approvals and logistics to have the equipment back in place as soon as possible.

Analysts say if Russia wanted a justification to extend the maintenance period, it already has one because the necessary equipment needed for the repairs work did not arrive back on time.

The Kremlin has previously cut off gas supplies to several European countries that did not comply with new Russian regulations for gas payment to be settled in roubles.

In essence, it’s not in Moscow’s interest to delay the maintenance work as Russia would lose out financially as well. Critics say third parties would welcome the delay. On Friday, the Kremlin said it would increase gas supplies to Europe if the turbine for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in Canada was returned.

It’s quite obvious the European Union’s economy has taken a strong hit from the sanctions it has imposed on Russia. On top of that, the EU has almost given up, in public at least, from seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine. The roadmap to peace isn’t gaining any momentum despite the fighting occurring on Europe’s doorstep.

The EU should be an active player in the peace process but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Neither does there appear to be any strategy towards Ukraine (something similar to the start of the conflict when the EU was pushing for a peace settlement) apart from slapping sanctions on Russia which are clearly backfiring on European Union members. Long-term inflation expectations have now dropped below two percent as recession fears deepened after warnings about possible disruption in Russian gas supplies.

The EU is suffering a strong economic blow with forecasts for the 27-nation bloc looking very bleak and record inflation levels hitting households.

Analysts have been quick to point out that the EU lacks the backbone and will to stand up and be firm in it’s political and economic decisions. Critics say despite being reluctant to blacklist Russian energy, it has hesitantly done so after heavy pressure from Washington and London.

  • source : Tehrantimes