2nd Feb 2023

EU risks winter gas crunch despite Russia pact

  • Pipelines in Ukraine transport some 80 percent of the Russian gas exported to the EU (Photo: Naftogaz of Ukraine)

The European Union and Russia on Monday (16 November) signed an early warning agreement designed to prevent sudden energy cut-offs. But the Slovak Prime Minister, after separate talks in Moscow, said a fresh gas crisis is lurking round the corner.

"From what I have heard today it seems that there will be enormous problems between Russia and Ukraine as Kiev is not capable of paying. There were even indications of a repeated disruption of gas supplies to Europe in January," Slovakia's Robert Fico said.

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At the bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Mr Fico failed to gain assurances that the coming winter would not see a gas crisis similar to the one at the beginning of this year. Back then, the Slovak economy was paralyzed for several days, with the damage amounting to some 0.5 percent of GDP.

The warning - to be conveyed to the Swedish EU presidency - comes as the 27-nation bloc and Russia inked the new energy agreement, which foresees a notification of any oil, gas or electricity supply interruption, an exchange of assessments and consultations to exit any emergency situation.

Transit countries may also be invited to sit at the table, the agreement says.

Expectations are running high in Brussels as the signature concludes precisely two and a half years of negotiations. Prior to the talks, the EU suffered from disputes involving Moscow and two countries key for Russian gas to reach the European market, Ukraine and Belarus, in January 2006 and 2007, respectively.

"I am confident that the implementation of this mechanism will be a powerful tool to prevent the transit and export of energy to the EU being reduced or cut off," said EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Not all are convinced that the Europeans now hold a magic wand in their hands, however.

According to Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, the agreement is "a good thing as it provides actual information and the possibility to prepare for a negative turn in Russian-Ukrainian dialogue, but of course, it is not a solution."

Meanwhile, some experts stress that the fact there has to be an early warning accord at all confirms that the current business arrangements between Gazprom and its partners do not function properly. In practice, they argue, it could prove ineffective as transit countries have been left out.

"The difficulties involve a territory between Russia and the EU. Therefore, it is difficult to prevent a crisis situation without having all parties engaged and present at the signing ceremony," said Karel Hirman from the Slovak energy and innovation agency.

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