Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Gas disruption bites in Europe

Russia halted gas supplies via Ukraine to the Balkans, Turkey and south-eastern Europe on Tuesday and flows to European Union-member state Austria dropped by 90% in a deepening price row between Moscow and Kiev.

Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the crisis that has struck at a time of unusually low winter temperatures across Europe, which receives about one quarter of its gas from Moscow.

The dispute threatens to worsen ties with the West already fraught after Russia’s war with Georgia last year.

Europe receives about one fifth of its gas from Russia via Ukraine, leaving European customers vulnerable when Moscow reduced volumes to Ukraine on New Year’s Day after failing to reach agreement with Kiev over gas prices.

Austria is a distribution hub which directs Russian gas to Germany and central Europe. ”At the moment only about 10% of Russian gas is being delivered,” Austrian oil and gas group OMV said in a statement.

Russia and Ukraine — which have clashed repeatedly over the ambition of Kiev’s pro-Western leaders to join Nato — blamed each other for the disruption.

The head of Ukraine’s state energy firm Naftogaz, Oleh Dubyna, said Russia had probably decided to stop all gas supplies to Europe via Ukraine. That could jeopardise supplies to countries including Germany, Europe’s biggest economy.

Alexander Medvedev, deputy CEO of Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom, told reporters in London that Kiev had shut down three or four export pipelines overnight. He said the company was a ”hostage of irresponsible behaviour” by Kiev.

Gazprom says it usually exports about 300-million cubic metres of gas a day to Europe via Ukraine during the winter, while Ukraine consumes about 100-million cubic metres. The latest news of pipeline shutdowns suggests exports via Ukraine running at below 100-million cubic metres, which could mean shortages in Europe in a day or so.

Freezing temperatures
The disruptions come at a bad time for Europe, which is experiencing a cold snap likely to drive up gas demand. Temperatures in Bulgaria fell below minus 15 degrees Celsius overnight.

The dispute was also cited as a factor behind a rise in gas prices traded in London on Tuesday.

Bulgaria’s government called a crisis meeting after Bulgarian officials said flows had been halted along a pipeline spur that also supplies Turkey, Macedonia and Greece.

Croatia said its flows were halted too.

Bulgaria is particularly vulnerable to the disruptions because, unlike Greece and Turkey, it has no access to alternative gas supply routes.

Bulgarian fertiliser producer Neochim halted production after its gas supplies were stopped.

”As of 3.30am supplies … to Bulgaria as well as the transit to Turkey, Greece and Macedonia have been suspended,” Bulgaria’s Economy Ministry said in a statement. ”We are in a crisis situation.”

A delegation from the Czech presidency of the EU met Ukrainian officials in Kiev, while talks between Gazprom and the EU were planned for later on Tuesday in Berlin.

”The situation (with gas supplies via Ukraine to central Europe) … is getting worse by the minute and we would like to talk about this new situation,” Czech Industry Minister Martin Riman told reporters in Kiev.

Most larger EU countries say they have large amounts of gas stockpiled after several mild winters and have access to supplies from sources such as Norway and Algeria.

The conflict between Moscow and Kiev, now in its sixth day, escalated dramatically on Monday when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Gazprom to cut deliveries of gas to Europe via Ukraine by about one sixth — the same amount Moscow accused Kiev of siphoning off.

Worries about European gas supplies, coupled with Israel’s military operation in Gaza, pushed oil up to a three-week high of $49,91 in New York on Monday. Russia, whose main export is oil, stands to benefit for a recovery in prices. – Reuters

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural

Mkhize throws the book at the Special Investigating Unit

It’s a long shot at political redemption for the former health minister and, more pressingly, a bid to avert criminal charges

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…