PRAGUE – Russia cut natural gas to Europe again on Friday, including cutting flows in half to Italy and Slovakia and completely to France, as countries work to ease their dependence on Russian supplies amid to the war in Ukraine.
It marks the third day of significant reductions in the fuel that supplies industry and generates electricity in Europe, which has also reached Germany and Austria. It further boosted already high energy prices that are driving record inflation in the European Union.
Russia has blamed a technical problem for the cuts in the main Nord Stream 1 pipeline serving Germany and France, saying equipment being refurbished in Canada was stuck there because of Western sanctions. Leaders in Germany and Italy have called the reductions a political move, and it has heightened energy tensions in Europe following Russia’s earlier cut of natural gas to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday that the reductions are “blackmail (against) individual countries and Europe as a whole”.
Russia told SPP, Slovakia’s state-owned gas company, that it would reduce deliveries to the country by 50%, SPP director Richard Prokypcak told a conference in Bratislava. The reason for the reduction was not clarified.
Russian state energy giant Gazprom told Italian gas company Eni the same day that it would supply just 50 percent of the amount of gas requested for Friday, reducing flow to one of Europe’s biggest Russian gas importers for a third day.
Gazprom cut Italy’s requested delivery by 15 percent on Wednesday. ANSA news agency reported that the Russian company was down 35 percent on Thursday. Italy gets 40% of its gas from Russia but has been working to find alternative sources in countries like Algeria.
And France is no longer getting natural gas from Russia. French gas network operator GRTGaz said Russian supplies via Germany stopped on Wednesday after falling 60 percent in the first five months of the year.
The operator said on Friday that despite the disruption to Russian supplies, no disruptions to gas supplies are expected this summer, thanks in part to more shipments via Spain. France typically sources around 17% of its natural gas from Russia, but general gas is a relatively small part of France’s energy mix, around 16%.
The cut in supplies to France was “a consequence of the already known reduction” of gas supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, said German Economy Ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe. He had no further details on the specific reasons for the cut.
Russia said Canadian sanctions prevented German partner Siemens Energy from delivering equipment that was sent there for overhaul. The German government said maintenance should not have been an issue until the autumn and that the Russian decision was intended to sow uncertainty and raise prices.
“Both we and Germany and others maintain that it is a lie, there is a political use of gas” by Russia, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Thursday.
In Slovakia, Prokypcak played down the impact of the cuts, despite “facing a real risk (supplies from Russia) will be stopped completely,” he told CTK news agency.
In previous days, the cuts reached 10% on Wednesday and 34% on Thursday. To diversify supply, Slovakia recently signed an agreement with Norway to receive gas from the North Sea via Germany and also liquefied gas from other countries.
Economy Minister Richard Sulik said the new deals would reduce his country’s dependence on Russian gas by 65%. Before the agreements, Slovakia received 85% of its gas from Russia.
Slovakia has about a third of the country’s one-year consumption in its gas stockpiles and was planning to have enough winter gas stored by July 10.
Austrian oil and gas company OMV said on Thursday that Gazprom had informed it of a reduction in supply, but did not specify by how much.
The European Union is trying to cut Russia’s gas imports by two-thirds by the end of the year and has used liquid gas imported from the United States to begin filling that gap. But an explosion and fire at a major US export facility in Freeport, Texas, disabled a fifth of the country’s gas export capacity and underscored concerns about the fragility of Europe’s gas supplies.
Short-term natural gas prices remained high on Friday at 126 euros per megawatt for month-ahead gas futures. That’s about 50 percent as of Monday.
Gas prices have fallen as the winter heating season ends, offering some relief to European utilities struggling to replenish underground storage to have enough to get through the next winter.
By Karel Janicek