The semi-annual gas war between Russia and Ukraine has ratcheted up another notch, with the announcement that all gas headed from to the rest of Europe through Ukraine — which is to say, virtually all Russian gas headed to Europe — has now been halted. Maria Danilova for AP:
Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that Russia had cut off all gas supplies through pipelines crossing Ukrainian territory, the latest move in a devastating pricing dispute between the two neighbors that has already left a number of countries without gas. Valentyn Zemlyansky, spokesman for state gas company Naftogaz, said Russia’s gas giant Gazprom completely stopped sending gas to European consumers at 7:44 a.m. (0544 GMT). Eighty percent of Russian gas is shipped via Ukraine. “Words fail us,” Zemlyansky said of Gazprom’s move.
Russia confirmed the cutoff but said it was Ukraine’s fault because it had shut down the last pipeline carrying gas from Russia.
The Russia-Ukraine natural gas dispute has hit Europe with the force of a winter storm. It has affected at least a dozen nations. Tens of thousands of people were left without heat and governments scrambled to find alternative energy sources. Before Wednesday, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey had all reported a halt in gas shipments, while France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary had reported substantial drops in supplies from Russia.
Russia says it has limited supplies to Europe because Ukraine was stealing the gas. Ukraine blames Russia for the shortfalls. Russia stopped all gas shipments to Ukraine on Jan. 1 after the two countries failed to agree on prices and transit fees for next year.
Bloomberg‘s Amanda Jordan reports that “Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria were among European countries to restrict natural-gas supplies to consumers” as a result. BBC has a detailed country-by-country look at How Europe is Coping.
Writing at Foreign Policy‘s new blog, The Argument, Nick Gvosdev observes that something bigger is at stake: “Gazprom is in trouble.”
To meet ever growing demand in Europe, not to mention in Russia itself, Gazprom has been forced to buy larger quantities of gas from outside the country, and it has significantly raised the price it is prepared to pay, particularly to Turkmenistan. Gazprom has done this to protect its Central Asian sources of natural gas from a growing and rapacious Chinese market for energy — and to drive a stake through the heart of a proposed gas pipeline that would link Central Asia to Europe while bypassing Russia.
Gazprom may seem to be the confident energy arm of the Kremlin. But as the ongoing dispute with Ukraine unfolds, we are seeing Russia’s energy behemoth revealed more for what it is: a gambler who knows its hand is about to be called.
If Robert Manning’s predictions in “Energy Independence Fallacy” are correct — and I think they are — things are unlikely to get much better for Russia. The EU and the US will both be investing heavily in alternative technologies in order to avoid being held hostage by foreign suppliers. Once these come to fruition, the “energy weapon” will be obsolete.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.