Tuesday

29th Nov 2022

Russia launches EU gas communications blitz

  • 'It's when the consultations start, that's when it gets interesting,' an EU official said (Photo: eastpole)

Russia's letter forewarning the EU that it will reduce gas supplies to Belarus arrived at the European Commission on Monday morning (21 June) shortly after Gazprom had already begun to turn off the taps.

"There is a systematic underpayment by the Belarusian company Beltransgaz for the gas supplied by Gazprom during the four months of 2010 that has resulted in a debt which exceeds $190 million, without penalty payments," the letter from Igor Sechin, one of the Kremlin's most powerful insiders, to EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger, said. "The Russian side continues to do its utmost to avoid a crisis."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The note constitutes the EU and Russia's Early Warning Mechanism (EWM) on energy cut-offs set up in 2009 in the wake of a massive Ukraine gas crunch which left both Russia and Ukraine's reputation as reliable suppliers in tatters. Belarus transits about 20 percent of Russia's gas exports to the EU, feeding energy to Germany, Lithuania and Poland.

An EU official said the Sechin letter originally arrived at the Russian mission in Brussels before the Belarus cut-offs began, but was late in landing on Mr Oettinger's desk because Russian diplomats had to translate the text.

The Russian EU mission followed-up by sending a panel of energy experts to meet with EU officials some three hours after the diplomatic note.

"It shows this Early Warning Mechanism works well. It's not just the notification part, it's when the consultations start, that's when it gets interesting, because we talk about what could happen and what would be the solution for us in an ongoing process," the EU official added.

The EWM was just one of several communications efforts deployed by Moscow to limit the potential PR damage of the latest post-Soviet gas battle in what has become a never-ending story in the EU energy security field.

Russian diplomats have in recent days kept in touch through back-channels with officials close to European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso. "This was not a surprise," another contact in the EU institutions said.

Russia's €2 million-a-year-or-so PR machine in Brussels, handled by the British consultancy GPlus, also got to work telling staff in EU institutions and Brussels-based press that the Belarus dispute is purely commercial and that Gazprom is behaving like "any company in the world" which is owed money by a bad client.

Seasoned diplomats in former Communist and former Soviet countries tend to see Gazprom as an arm of Russia's foreign ministry, or even its FSB secret service, wielded to extend the Kremlin's power in the old Soviet "sphere of influence."

The theory goes that financial pressure on impoverished Belarus could help Moscow gain control of strategic assets in the energy transit or petrol refinery sectors as well as showing voters who is boss in the region ahead of Belarus presidential elections, due by March next year.

Gazprom staff directly contacted the Lithuanian foreign ministry in the past days to make sure its message gets through even to the most Kremlin-wary elements in the EU community.

"We got assurances well in advance," Lithuanian deputy foreign minister Evaldas Ignatavicius told this website, saying that Gazprom has promised to supply it out of Latvia if the dispute with Belarus escalates.

Lithuania, which shut down a nuclear reactor earlier this year, now depends almost entirely on Russian gas to keep the country going.

"I don't think Russia wants to send any more negative signals to the EU," Mr Ignatavicius said. "[Despite the Belarus dispute] Russia wants to show that it is simply interested in selling gas to the West."

Socialists opposed parliament taking Qatar rights stand

The socialists in the European Parliament are leading compromise talks on human rights in Qatar despite voting against putting the issue to a plenary vote. The move comes after the Left demanded that the European Parliament take a stand.

No top EU officials going to Qatar World Cup

None of the four top EU officials are going to the Qatar World Cup amid a stink on human rights, but some are more brave than others in criticising the gas-rich emirate.

Moldova hit by spillover of Russia's war

Last week, the EU pledged €250m to help Moldova tackle the energy crisis consisting of €100m in loans, another €100m in grants, and €50m directed to help the most vulnerable citizens.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers under pressure to act on 90,000 asbestos deaths
  2. Post-COP27 optimism — non-Western voices are growing
  3. Legal scholars: Prosecuting Putin 'legally problematic'
  4. A missed opportunity in Kazakhstan
  5. EU's Hungary funds, China, energy, and Frontex This WEEK
  6. Sweden says 'no' to EU asylum relocation pledges
  7. The 'proof' problem with EU sanctions — and how to fix it
  8. The EU gas cap: will the bottle ever be 'uncorked'?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us