Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured Western Europe that there won’t be any interruption of natural gas supplies from his country this winter unless Ukraine again tries to meet its own energy needs by stealing fuel from the pipeline running through its territory.
“I can reassure you that there will be no crisis that could be blamed on Russian participants in energy cooperation,” the Russian leader said Oct. 16 during a visit to Serbia. He added, however, that “transit risks” are looming.
“If we see that our Ukrainian partners, just like in 2008, begin removing gas without permission from the export pipeline system, we, just like in 2008, will consecutively reduce the stolen volume,” Putin said.
Already this year, on June 16, the Kremlin-run gas monopoly Gazprom cut back on its supply of gas through Ukraine over what it said were Kiev’s billions of dollars of unpaid bills for previous gas deliveries. There are fears that as winter sets in, Ukraine may have to divert gas from the pipeline meant for Western European customers.
Russia is the European Union’s biggest gas supplier. EU countries now get about 30 percent of their gas from Russia, half of it piped through Ukraine.
Twice, in 2006 and 2009, that flow has been interrupted. The stakes this time are higher, though, because of Russia’s unilateral annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March and its suspected support in arms and manpower for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. And the EU, along with the United States, has responded to that conflict with strict sanctions that mostly target the Russian energy sector.
Nevertheless, Putin said his government would do everything to prevent a reduction in the westward flow of gas. “We wouldn’t want any crisis to occur during the winter period,” he said. “Russia has always been a reliable supplier, and we have enough resources to satisfy our own demand and the growing demand of our clients in Europe or Asia.”
Putin says Europe can ensure a stable supply of gas by supporting alternative pipeline routes. Already, some Russian gas is being shipped west in a pipeline that crosses the Baltic Sea to Germany. Another option is the proposed South Stream pipeline, which would ship Russian gas across the Black Sea, then into Central and Southern Europe.
Both the Nord Stream and the South Stream pipelines bypass Ukraine altogether.
“As for the future of Russian gas exports to Europe, the problem of transit across the Ukrainian territory remains. One of the more obvious solutions might be to diversify the delivery routes,” Putin said in an interview published Oct. 15 in the Serbian newspaper Politika.
Putin is scheduled to meet on Oct. 17 in Milan with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the two countries’ differences, including the dispute over gas.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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