The G7 and EU will ban imports of Russian natural gas to areas where Moscow has cut off supplies, officials involved in the talks have said, marking the first time pipeline gas trade has been blocked by Western powers since the invasion of Ukraine.
The decision, to be finalized by G7 leaders at a summit in Hiroshima next week, will prevent the resumption of Russian gas exports from pipelines en route to countries such as Poland and Germany, where Moscow cut off supply last year and caused an energy crisis across Europe.
IEA: Three uncertainties for natural gas sufficiency [γράφημα]
Western powers want to make sure Russia doesn’t see a boost in energy revenue as it tries to ratchet up economic pressure 15 months after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
One of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision was made “to make sure the partners don’t change their minds in the future”.
A draft G7 statement seen by the Financial Times said the group of major economies would further reduce the use of Russian energy sources “including preventing the reopening of routes previously closed due to Russian use. energy as a weapon”, at least until “there is a resolution of the conflict”.
Symbolism and values
While the measures are unlikely to directly affect gas flows, they underscore Brussels’ deep determination to make permanent the rapid and painful transition to decades of dependence on Russian energy.
The imposition of the ban is highly symbolic because at the start of the war the EU had avoided targeting pipeline flows given its huge dependence on natural gas from Moscow. Russia has cut supplies, driving gas prices to more than 10 times their normal level.
But prices have fallen dramatically in recent months as Europe has managed to rein in demand over the winter, ramped up the development of renewables and sourced supplies from alternative sources such as maritime shipments of liquefied natural gas.
Moscow’s share of European gas imports fell from over 40% to less than 10%, while the mild winter helped boost EU gas stocks.
European gas reserves
Officials are confident that natural gas storage facilities, which are already around 60% full compared to around 30% in the corresponding period in 2022, will reach their maximum capacity well before the arrival of next winter.
“With European gas storage exceptionally full for the time of year and wholesale prices returning to what can only be considered their normal price range, you can understand why European leaders are confident that this plan will not destroy security of supply anytime soon,” said Tom Marzec-Manser of energy consultancy ICIS, adding that “it is important, however, not to be too complacent about the prospects for the European market some gas”.
Germany and Poland
Pipelines to which Russia has cut supplies, including the northern branch of the Druzhba line that feeds refineries in Germany and Poland, could also be blocked under EU measures aimed at preventing the resumption of flows.
An EU diplomat said the proposal needed more clarification from Brussels to show how it would change the “status quo”, especially since some of Kazakhstan’s oil passes through Druzhba. “It needs to be clear exactly how this will work,” they said.
Berlin and Warsaw, although exempt from Russian oil sanctions, said they would voluntarily end crude deliveries through Druzhba last year, although Poland continued to receive supplies until the Russia cuts flows in February. German refiners have stopped ordering Russian crude since the beginning of this year.
Some of Russia’s main gas pipelines to Europe – Nord Stream 1 and 2 – were sabotaged last year, and only one of their four sections remains active. But other pipelines, like the Yamal line to Poland, remain intact.