‘High risk for Putin too’ Kremlin’s gas war on Europe to backfire as economy dwindles

Putin's gas war is 'high risk' for Russian economy says Herbst

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The European Union could soon be in the grips of a major energy crisis as fears are mounting over the possible permanent closure of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline – one of the most important providers of gas to the bloc. The energy gas giant Gazprom temporarily shut down the pipeline for annual maintenance on Monday with a reopening scheduled for next Thursday.

John Herbst, former US Ambassador to Ukraine, says Putin would also lose out if he were to keep the taps closed.

He told Express.co.uk: “This is a high-risk proposition for Putin, too.

“He obviously needs the revenues that come from that gas. But he knows that in the long run, he is in fact looking very seriously – maybe even determined – to wean itself off of Russian gas.

“And maybe he hopes somehow to break their will by stopping the flow entirely as the winter approaches. But he could go in either direction.”

Since its closure on Monday, European officials have expressed concerns that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin could blackmail the EU and stop gas flows from restarting on the July 21 deadline.

In anticipation of that prospect, France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France should act quickly and efficiently to prepare for a “total cut-off of Russian gas”.

Klaus Mueller, the head of Germany’s energy regulator, believes the Kremlin may continue to stop Europe’s energy supplies beyond the scheduled end of the maintenance work.

Despite months of efforts to find alternative sources of gas and energy sources, the EU still largely depends on Russia for its gas consumption. In 2021, 40 percent of the gas consumed in the EU came from Russia.

For now, the state-run gas giant Gazprom has likely made a record in revenues this year. Though the EU has intensified its effort to reduce Russian energy imports, Russia keeps making huge amounts of revenue from energy.

Russia earned a likely record €93billion in revenue from exports of oil, gas, and coal in the first 100 days of the war, according to data analysed by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, a research organisation based in Helsinki, Finland.

In another worrying sign for the bloc, the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Fatih Birol has warned Europe to prepare immediately for a complete gas cut-off this winter

“The nearer we are coming to winter, the more we understand Russia’s intentions,” he told the Financial Times. “I believe the cuts are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.”

Former Ambassador Herst, however, insisted it remains unclear how Putin will act on July 21.

“We don’t know how ultimately this latest development will play out. Again, the risk for Putin is very high. It doesn’t mean he won’t take it.

“If he does, it’s possible that Putin will achieve his big objective of somehow denting the sanctions regime.”

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In anticipation of that move, the EU is moving forward with a winter preparedness plan that will try to ensure every European country has enough gas to get through winter. An analysis by the Bruegel think tank found that EU countries will need to cut demand by 15 percent over the next 10 months if Putin keeps Nord Stream 1 closed.

According to real-time data, current gas storage levels are at 62.92 percent – well below the 80 percent target.

“We need to make sure that in case of full disruption, the gas flows towards where it is most needed. We have to provide for European solidarity,” European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

In a dangerous sign for the bloc, Germany has triggered the “alarm stage” of its emergency gas plan in response to falling supplies from Russia – in effect, moving one step closer to energy rationing.

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