The European Commission President warned Russia that it will slap down sanctions on a new gas project amid soaring tension with Ukraine. Fears an invasion might be launched have been sent soaring after reports emerged that 100,00 Russians were stationed at the Ukraine border. Scrambling to prevent an attack, the EU has drafted up a range of measures like sanctions to discourage Moscow.
Ms von der Leyen warned that the project, Nord Stream 2, “cannot be excluded” from a range of possible measures the bloc might use against Mr Putin.
Nord Stream 2 is a new pipeline that will transit gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland and Ukraine on its route.
But yet to receive certification, the Russian President was accused of deliberately slashing Europe’s gas supplies to speed up the pipeline’s approval.
Ms von der Leyen has also not been shy to call out Gazprom, Russia’s gas conglomerate, for the plummeting EU supplies, sending prices along with its profits soaring.
She said in an interview with Les Echos and Handelsblatt, that Moscow “is using gas deliveries as a means of pressure on us”.
In fact, after Russia slashed the volumes of gas travelling into the bloc through its vast network of pipelines, EU prices soared to record highs.
But the bloc is dependent on Russia for around 40 percent of its energy supplies.
And as Ukraine is a key transit route for Russia’s gas to reach Europe, this has sparked even greater fears that the bloc’s gas supplies could get cut if Mr Putin launches an attack on Ukraine.
With Russia’s control over the European energy market laid bare, it appears that the EU is struggling to escape from Mr Putin’s grip.
And it could get worse after Russia’s gas deal with China.
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Moscow has agreed to boost the volume of gas supplies to China by 10 billion cubic meters and in total with supplies via the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline to reach 48 billion cubic meters per year.
This could mean that Russia may see less of a need to export gas to Europe if it is gaining a new trading partner it can profit from.
Danil Buchkov, an expert on Russia and China relations, said: “Power of Siberia 2 will supply gas from Siberia’s Yamal Peninsula, source of gas exported to Europe.
“Western officials worry project could have geopolitical implications for European nations before they embark in earnest on transition to renewables.
“The planned Power of Siberia 2 pipeline will be able to pump into China around the same amount that Nord Stream 2 would be able to transport to Europe, giving the Kremlin more options about who gets the gas and at what price.”
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Now with an alternative option to Nord Stream 2, Russia may have “additional leverage” over Europe.
Alexander Gabuev, from the Carnegie Moscow Centre think-tank, said: “If the project is signed and the pipeline is completed, Russia will be able to sell gas from the same fields that serve [the West], and that diversification provides additional leverage. It’s a pretty significant volume.”
Now, the bloc and the US are scrambling to draft up contingency plans as fears Mr Putin takes more stark action have been sparked.
EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said: “It is important that all member states work on preparedness and review contingency plans to ensure they are fit for purpose
“The Commission is conducting an assessment of the situation at European level in liaison with member states.”
“We think that the available gas stocks in the EU and our good network of LNG terminals will protect us against major security of supply problems.”
And the US has been encouraging liquified natural gas (LNG) suppliers to ramp up production so Europe can have an emergency supply of gas if volumes plummet further.
This would mean partners in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere may be able to come to the rescue if Mr Putin’s gas squeeze gets worse.