Putin wants the world to know Russia is a superpower says expert
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Europe’s gas market will be thrown into chaos if the tensions between the west and Russia fail to reach an amicable conclusion. As relationships between the powers deteriorate over the escalating Ukraine crisis, the prospect of gas supplies from Russia to Europe being disrupted grows stronger by the day. But what would the EU do if Russia turned the taps off?
Political tensions have been mounting for months around the build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, there has been much discussion over whether the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas might weaponise the EU’s dependency.
Russia – which is the biggest producer of natural gas in the world – supplies the EU with some 43 percent of its natural gas, according to the EU statistical office Eurostat.
Gas is supplied by the state-controlled Gazprom – a firm that has something of a monopoly on Europe and has been its biggest supplier for decades, even if this does vary considerably between EU states.
A senior EU official confirmed that “as we are preparing for sanctions, we are also preparing for countersanctions, looking very closely at the energy sector.”
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Europe’s gas stockpiles are currently running low, hence the significant price rises for household across all of Europe – meaning the pressure is already high.
President Putin will be aware that a gas shut off could be the easiest way of having his demands for NATO to withdraw from its burgeoning relationship with Ukraine.
This is due to lower than usual gas supplies from Russia in recent months, which has prompted EU officials and the International Energy Agency to accuse Moscow of contributing to an under-supply to Europe.
Officials have even started looking further afield for their gas supplies due to fears the whole system could be shut off by the belligerent Russian leader.
Where would Europe get gas from?
It has been announced today that Japan will do its part by offering liquefied natural gas imports to Europe from March onwards.
Multiple gas shipments are already being diverted to Europe by private Japanese firms and will arrive this month, Tokyo’s Trade Minister Koichi Hagiuda said, – but declined to specify how much.
However, it’s practically impossible that any amount supplied by Japan could fill what hasn’t been supplied by Russia.
The USA has also confirmed it will work to supply Europe with supplies – but again, this is unlikely to make up the amount supplied by Gazprom.
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Is a cut off of gas likely?
Mr Putin has repeated that long term contracts will be honoured, and is keen to be seen abiding by the rulebook as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline awaits approval by German and EU regulators.
It would be a mutually destructive endeavour; with Europe being its key client, Russia’s wallet would suffer significantly from its loss.
But there are still ways Russia can exert pressure on the EU through its vast gas networks.
The Ukrainian gas transit route could be starved while Russia continues to supply its clients in the northwest of Europe – such as the Netherlands, which receives a large portion of supplies from Russia – via the Yamal pipeline through Belarus.
Deliveries to Southern European countries like Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Croatia could also continue through Gazprom’s TurkStream pipeline.
This would be fulfilling the contractual minimum – therefore honouring existing contracts, which Mr Putin has already committed to.
But if Gazprom were to receive instructions from the Kremlin to stop supplying gas to the EU, there could be significant shortages.
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