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What is happening between Europe and Gazprom

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Over the past two days Gazprom, the Russian state energy company, has announced a series of reductions in gas supplies to Europe, causing considerable concern in the countries involved. The reasons for these reductions or why they have come right now are not yet clear: Gazprom justified itself by saying that the pipelines have technical problems and maintenance difficulties, but the German government, one of the most affected, said Gazprom is decreasing the quantity. of gas sent to Europe for “political” reasons.

The first cut in supplies was announced on Tuesday, when Gazprom said it would reduce daily gas supplies arriving in Germany (and therefore Europe) from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline by 40 percent. it could guarantee a maximum of 100 million cubic meters of gas per day instead of the 167 million envisaged. He had justified the reduction in supplies by arguing that it had been impossible, due to the sanctions imposed by the West, to repair some equipment produced by the German company Siemens.

This version had actually been also confirmed by Siemenswho had said that at least one turbine used to pump gas and that had been sent to Canada for repairs could no longer go back due to the sanctions imposed by the Canadian government against Russia.

But on Wednesday Gazprom made a new announcement, further reducing gas supplies to Germany: from the 100 million cubic meters of gas per day guaranteed on Tuesday to 67 million, an overall reduction of 60 percent. According to the company, the further reduction was necessary because a second turbine was stopped by decision of the Russian authorities, again due to the impossibility of carrying out periodic maintenance.

Robert Habeck, German Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Economy, he said Wednesday that his government believes that the reductions in gas supplies are a “political” decision of the Russian regime, which “is not technically justifiable”. “The explanations of the Russian side are just an excuse,” said Habeck, who added: “Obviously, the strategy is to scare people and raise gas prices”. Which actually happened: only on Tuesday the price of gas increased by 20 percent.

The fear expressed by Habeck, yet to be confirmed, is that Russia is beginning to use European dependence on Russian gas as a tool of retaliation, or as a weapon to obtain concessions at a time when, due to the war in Ukraine, relations with Europe they are extremely conflicting.

The Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline is essential for gas supplies to Germany and more generally to Europe, because it is one of the few still active: the Yamal pipeline, which passes through Poland, was closed by the will of Russia, while the two pipelines passing through Ukraine were closed by the local government after the Russian invasion began.

At the same time – but for now it is not possible to know if the facts are connected to each other – on Wednesday Gazprom announced to Eni that it would reduce gas supplies to Italy by 15 percent: for now, the reduction concerns only the day on Wednesday, although the situation is still to be clarified. A spokesperson for Eni, heard from the agency HANDLE, said Gazprom «has announced a limited reduction in gas supplies for the day today, amounting to about 15 percent. The reasons for the decrease have not been notified at the moment ».

At present, the consequences of the reductions in gas supplies are negligible, as the German government also said: with the arrival of heat, gas is no longer needed to heat buildings, and European needs are considerably reduced (this applies, obviously, if the reductions are temporary). European countries, however, intended to use the warm season to build up gas reserves ahead of winter, when the damage from a disruption of supplies can be much greater.