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Russia enters showdown with Europeans

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Between Ukraine and Russian gas, the European Union (EU) will have to choose. This is the message sent by Moscow which is gradually turning off the tap. Since Friday, June 17, France no longer receives gas from Russia, indicated GRT Gaz, the French network manager. To Germany, Italy or Austria, the speed is reduced by 60%. As for Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, Russia had already interrupted its deliveries to these countries.

Officially, this last drop in flow is due to a technical problem on the compressors, assures Gazprom, the Russian gas company. But this ” breakdown “ comes at a time when the Europeans are preparing to recognize Ukraine as an EU candidate… It is therefore difficult not to see this as a way of putting the Europeans to the test.

“This is how dictators and despots act”

The head of the Italian government, Mario Draghi, has few doubts. He denounced a “political use of gas”. German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck has the same interpretation: “We should have no illusions, we are in a showdown with Putinhe said. This is how dictators and despots act. »

By reducing its deliveries, Russia is attacking Europe where it is most fragile. Because Russian gas is the imported product which is the most difficult to replace, for lack of equivalent volumes available from other suppliers. The EU depends on Russia for 40% of its consumption, with strong differences between countries.

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In Germany and Italy, a critical situation

France is not the Member State which is likely to suffer the most. It is one of the few European countries that are concerned about preserving their energy independence. As a result, Russia represents only 17% of its supplies.

France has greatly increased its gas imports in recent months and has already filled its stocks to 56%, against the usual 50% at this time of year. The objective is to reach 85% by 1er november. Nevertheless, “the supply is not fully assured if we have to face a strong cold snap next winter”underlines a professional.

The situation is much more critical for Germany and Italy, which were more than 50% dependent on Russian gas before the war. Germany announced a series of measures on Sunday June 19. It will use more coal for its electricity production and set up an auction system for the purchase of gas by manufacturers, to encourage them to save money. Italy is also preparing an emergency plan which will result in the use of more polluting energy sources.

Poland’s long-standing warnings

Gazprom’s new weapon is to bring the uncertainty principle into play. Its aim is to drive up prices and increase our insecurity,” analyzes Thierry Bros, professor at Sciences Po. The Dutch TTF (Title Transfer Facility), the benchmark for natural gas in Europe, peaked at nearly €150 per megawatt hour (MWh). It was €34 a year ago… This price increase will force each European state to arbitrate between its immediate economic interests and its values.

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The Russian president, for his part, denied being responsible for this price increase. He blamed the “systemic errors of the American administration and the European bureaucracy”. Vladimir Putin spoke at the St. Petersburg Forum, the major Russian economic meeting. During this same Forum, the boss of Gazprom, Alexei Miller was more direct. “Our product, our rules. We don’t play by rules we didn’t make,” he specified.

It should be remembered that in 2010, the Polish government had alerted the Europeans to the risk of seeing Russia one day use energy weapons. At the time, Germany had just agreed to the construction of the Nord Stream, a gas pipeline directly linking Germany to Russia via the Baltic. Berlin had ruled out any risk of energy blackmail by explaining that, even during the Cold War, Russian gas had never stopped arriving. Today, Europeans are discovering, a little late, that they would have done better to listen to Warsaw more.

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The ten largest European buyers of Gazprom (in million cubic meters)

Germany: 57.8; Italy: 22.8; France: 13.2; Austria: 10.8; Poland: 10.4; Netherlands: 8.4; Hungary: 7.8; Slovakia: 5; UK: 3.4; Greece: 3.2; Bulgaria: 3.

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