• Gazprom distribution map - the 2009 gas war damaged the firm's reputation as a reliable supplier (Photo: gazprom.ru)

Deja vu as Russia gas cuts hit eight more EU countries

03.02.12 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Eight EU countries have joined Italy in noting a sharp drop in Russian gas supplies, in events recalling the massive 2009 crunch.

Gazprom deliveries to Austria and Slovakia reportedly fell by 30 percent on Thursday (2 February). Shipments to Poland fell 7 percent and Czech distributor RWE Transgaz said deliveries are "several" percent lower than normal.

The European Commission on Friday added that Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Romania have also been affected.

The cuts began in Italy on Tuesday. Earlier this week it reported a 10 percent drop, but the figure hit 20 percent on Thursday.

Member states created special reserves after the 2009 gas crunch - which cost EU firms hundreds of millions of euros and which saw blackouts in some former Communist EU countries in the middle of a harsh winter.

But there are signs the 2012 crunch could also get nasty.

Polish distributor PGNiG had already begun lowering supplies to three big industrial clients - including the country's main petrol refinery, PKN Orlen - before the Russian problem. It cited high demand due to the cold snap, prompting the government to tap emergency stocks.

Slovak distributor SPP told people not to worry because it can get help from Austria and the Czech Republic - themselves victims of cuts.

The parallels multiplied between 2012 and 2009 on Thursday when Gazprom accused Ukraine of stealing EU-bound transit gas.

Gazprom chairman Alexander Medvedev told Interfax: "While sitting on transit pipelines, Ukraine is today taking gas at the level of 60 billion cubic metres a year, which goes far beyond the volumes covered by [our] contracts."

Ukrainian distributor Naftogaz said in a statement: "The volume of gas transit through Ukraine's territory and the off-take of imported gas are at levels set by the contract with Gazprom."

Moscow and Kiev - also as in 2009 - are currently engaged in a highly political gas price dispute.

Meanwhile, question marks hang over Gazprom's line on Ukraine.

Polish distributor PGNiG said the drop came on the Russia-Belarus-Poland pipeline, not on the Russia-Ukraine-Poland network.

And two sources inside Gazprom told press the company is struggling with internal problems.

"The gas has to be transported over very long distances, and it can take time to get the gas through to the consumer," one unnamed contact told Dow Jones. "Some requests are higher than we can put in the pipe ... requests for gas have been higher for more than a week," the second source told Reuters.

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