Europe warned over gas crisis as Russia could eye Ukrainian reserves

Putin wants the world to know Russia is a superpower says expert

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French President Emmanuel Macron has said he sees a path forward on easing tensions with Russia over Ukraine. It comes after he held an urgent round of discussions with Moscow and Kiev. Mr Macron held talks with both Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin this week, amid fears that Russia could invade and capture the former Soviet state.

While Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops along its shared border with Ukraine — with Ukraine also stationing its own military in position — Mr Macron said he now saw the “possibility” for talks involving both countries.

Despite this, the first US troops arrived in neighbouring Romania on Tuesday, while the UK has sent 350 troops to Poland, another country that borders Ukraine and Belarus, which is seen as being under Putin’s sphere of influence.

Many claim that an invasion is imminent, something that Russia has vehemently denied it is planning on doing, instead arguing that it is protecting itself against NATO’s eastward expansion.

The question of gas supplies has consistently cropped up during the tensions as much of Europe relies on Russian gas, a considerable portion of this gas travelling through Ukraine before reaching the EU.

Russia provides Europe with around 40 percent of its gas with 15 percent of this travelling through Ukraine.

Professor Julian Lindley-French, an internationally recognised strategic analyst and advisor in defence, who has worked with NATO, notes that this places much of the continent in an already vulnerable position, given that western Europe is growing to depend on the Nord Stream pipeline projects, especially Germany.

He told Express.co.uk: “Much of Europe’s gas storage is in Ukraine.

“What interests me is whether Putin would destroy that, which would make Europe’s nonsensical obsession with carbon neutral targets impossible.

“There’s no doubt that the timing of all of this is linked to that.”

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The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline directly links Russia and the EU, specifically Germany, via a pipe that travels beneath the Baltic Sea.

It was only completed in September but has yet to come into operation, the first pipeline having opened in 2015.

The US has said that Nord Stream 2 will not open if Russia invades Ukraine, but Prof Lindley-French says Germany will likely give it the green light in the coming months, as there are “powerful” lobbies at play that have major influence over the German government.

He said: “Russia is using Nord Stream 2 as leverage, but Germany will use it because there’s a powerful lobby inside the German government supporting Nord Stream 2.

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“There’s a powerful lobby inside Germany pushing for it, and Germany has a different relationship with Russia than much of Europe, the UK and the US, because of their history.

“The nonsensical scrapping of three of six relatively young nuclear power stations and the obsession with carbon neutral goals at all costs makes Germany fundamentally reliant for much of its energy on Russia.

“And that then extends to much of Europe, and Russia is scrupulously exploiting this, because at the moment our gas storage is so limited that the simple fact is that we have to prioritise and ration gas in the event of being denied Russian gas — or at least Germany and some other European countries would — Russia will ruthlessly use this in its efforts.

“It’s part of the new warfare it is using, it is hybrid war, cyber war and hyper war in conjunction.”

This week, the US and the EU pledged to work to ensure gas supplies can respond to disruptions in pipeline gas flows.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, alongside Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, told reporters in Washington: “We’re working together right now to protect Europe’s energy supply against supply shocks, including those that could result from further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Mr Blinken said the coordination with allies and partners includes “how best to share energy reserves in the event that Russia turns off the spigot, or initiates a conflict that disrupts the flow of gas through Ukraine”.

Mr Borrell added that the immediate priority is to diversify sources of energy and gas flows to avoid supply disruption and “ensure that the world energy markets will be liquid, competitive and well-supplied”.

For years, leaders have warned that Europe must diversify its gas supplies and end its reliance on Russia and foreign imports.

Last year, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission President, warned that the EU was “vulnerable” as it currently imports 90 percent of its gas.

In what was perceived as a thinly-veiled reference to Russia, she said: “Europe today is too reliant on gas and too dependent on gas imports.”

On the same day, German Green Party co-chair Annalena Baerbock, who is now in government, accused Moscow of playing a “poker game” with European gas supplies and called on Germany to resist Kremlin pressure to certify Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

She said: “We can’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed [by Russia].”

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