The cutting of Russian gas supplies to Ukraine is sending a shiver through Europe as well. Energy is a formidable weapon and Russia, the world’s largest producer, knows it is a big stick to wield if needed, and the cosh is coming down hard on Kiev; but Europe may also be bruised.
As soon as Russia closed the valves most countries that get their supplies from pipelines running through Ukraine felt the pressure drop. Is this Ukraine siphoning gas to make up for the shortfall, or Moscow manoeuvering? Gazprom’s top brass has been quick to criticise: “We have information from in the field that Ukraine has started siphoning off Russian gas supplies destined for European consumers,” said Gazprom’s Sergei Kuprianov. As winter bites Europe is hoping the dispute is solved quickly; a quarter of Europe’s gas comes from Russian sources, and 80 percent of it travels through Ukraine. Gazprom’s biggest clients are Germany, Italy, Turkey, France, and Hungary, and many nations are totally dependant on Russian gas. The Baltic states and Poland are particularly vulnerable; over a third of Germany’s gas comes from there, and a quarter of Italy’s. Ruhrgas boss Burckhard Bergmann says Germany could feel the heat – or rather, lack of it. “There will not be any effects on the private customer,” he said. He does not have to worry because he will be fully supplied, but if developments in Russia should escalate on a long term basis limited cutbacks should not be excluded”. In the absence of any common EU energy reserve policy, the situation varies widely from country to country. Germany and France have relatively comfortable crisis cushions of 75 and 45-day stocks; Poland and the UK could only maintain their gas consumption for a couple of weeks. Russia claims Ukraine is stealing gas meant for Europe. This is based onUkraine’s insistance that it has a right to 15 percent of Russian gas crossing its territory as payment for using its pipelines. Kiev denies any wrong-doing.