Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to respond to Western sanctions by choking Europe’s access to natural gas supplies.
A major supplier of oil and gas, Russia is linked to European energy markets through a series of critical pipelines. The biggest one flows through Ukraine and it became a stumbling block for both sides in the failed negotiations to avert a full-blown invasion of Ukraine that took place on Thursday, Feb. 24.
Europe relies on Russia for around 35 percent of its natural gas. Most of it comes through pipelines via Ukraine, through Nord Stream 1, which goes directly to Germany, and through Yamal-Europe, which crosses Belarus and Poland to Germany.
Russian gas flows to Europe have been lower than usual for several months now. European politicians say Russia is using high gas prices as leverage in a dispute over the Gazprom-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.
Nord Stream 2 is awaiting certification before Russian gas can flow through to Germany. In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country is putting the certifying process on hold for the controversial Nord Stream 2.
“The situation today is fundamentally different,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday, Feb. 22. “That is why we must re-evaluate this situation in view of the latest developments. By the way, that includes Nord Stream 2.”
Nord Stream 2 would double the annual capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline via the Baltic Sea to 110 billion cubic meters of gas — more than half Russia’s current pipeline gas exports to Europe.
Both projects are designed to bypass Ukraine, once a key route for Russia’s gas exports to Europe, depriving Kyiv of billions of dollars in revenue from transit fees, Reuters reported.
Scholtz’s announcement came after President Putin declared that he recognized the independence of two separatist-held regions in Eastern Ukraine — Donestsk and Luhansk — and sent in troops.
Nord Stream 2 was built across the Baltic Sea to deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany but has not been in use pending Germany and EU regulatory clearance. It has faced stiff opposition from the U.S. and some European states.
Putin insisted less than 10 days ago that Nord Stream 2 was not about politics.
“This is one of Europe’s largest infrastructure projects, aimed at significantly strengthening energy security on the continent,” Putin said after meeting with Scholtz on Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Moscow to discuss the pipeline. “I have said more than once that this project is purely commercial, and that there are no politics, nor any political tinge, here.”
Putin reiterated that Russia was ready to continue gas transit via Ukraine after 2024 when the current deal expires, but only if there is demand for gas in Europe and the route is economically viable.
Norway, Europe’s second-largest supplier, is delivering natural gas at maximum capacity and cannot replace any missing supplies from Russia, according to its prime minister. The head of NATO has already advised Europe to diversify its energy supplies.
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz following their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 15, 2022. Putin said Moscow is ready for security talks with the U.S. and NATO as the Russian military announced a partial troop withdrawal from drills near Ukraine, suggesting a Russian invasion of its neighbor wasn’t imminent despite snowballing Western fears. (Sergey Guneev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)