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4th Mar 2024

Russia cuts EU gas, blames cold weather

Gazprom has begun cutting gas supplies to the EU in order to meet higher demand in Russia caused by severe cold weather.

Italy said on Tuesday (31 January) that volumes dropped by 10 percent but that its underground gas reserves are 65 percent full and that it can pull in extra volumes from Algeria, the Netherlands, Norway and liquid gas markets.

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  • Extreme winter swimming in Murmansk, Russia. Photo taken on 28 January 2012 (Photo: I am Nikon D40)

"It is not a crisis ... there is no shortage of gas in Italy," European Commission spokeswoman Marlene Holzener told EUobserver on Wednesday morning.

She noted that gas flows are so far "normal" in EU countries which depend more heavily on Russia, such as Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. She also said Gazprom expects to increase output "in just a couple of days."

Temperatures fell below minus 30 degrees Celsius at night in eastern Europe at the weekend and are forecast to stay low all week.

The weather has killed dozens of mostly homeless or old people in Ukraine, Poland and in Balkan countries. But in the Czech Republic, the victim was a 26-year-old man found in a field.

The Italy cutback is a reminder of EU vulnerability to Russian gas decisions.

A price dispute between Russia and Ukraine - Gazprom's main transit route to the Union - in the winter of 2009 caused massive shortages in former Communist EU members.

The two sides met on January 16 in a fresh dispute which also threatens to get nasty.

Russia wants Ukraine to pay $416 per thousand cubic metres of gas and to buy at least 52 billion cubic metres (bcm) a month. But Ukraine is aiming for $250 and 27 bcm.

The talks have a geopolitical dimension.

The EU and US are trying to pull Ukraine into their sphere of influence. But Russia wants it to quit the so-called European Energy Community and a draft EU free trade agreement in favour of joining its customs union. It also wants control of Ukraine's pipeline network - a strategic asset.

"If, as one hears in Ukraine, the gas transport system is a historical treasure, its place, apparently, is in a museum," Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said last week.

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