Putin plans new assault to disrrupt gas flows to Europe

Desperate Russia is planning a new assault to disrupt gas flows to Europe, ­intelligence sources have warned. Vladimir Putin has sanctioned the training of Armenian troops to strike pipelines which carry natural gas from Azerbaijan.

But the move is unlikely to please Chinese leaders who want an end to the economically disruptive conflict and have set out the framework for a “peace plan”.

According to electronic intercepts by Nato, Putin has sanctioned the training of Armenian troops to strike the pipelines which carry natural gas from Azerbaijan.

The plan has also caused concern among senior ministers and Nato commanders, who convened at the recent Munich
Sec­­urity Conference to discuss its impact.

Azerbaijan has become an increasingly valuable source of natural gas for Europe, following the decision by the EU to wean itself off Russian supplies.

While Russia accounted for more than half of Europe’s natural gas supplies before last year’s invasion, that figure is now hovering around 20 percent, and dropping.

In a bid to reverse this, sources say that Moscow has authorised its Spetsnaz special forces to build up a proxy force in Armenia, where Russia has planted thousands of peace-keeping forces following last year’s pause in the ethnic war with Azerbaijan.

The plan proposes an attack on the South Caucasus pipeline, which pumps natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Azerbaijan sector of the Caspian Sea to Turkey and beyond.

A second phase will see Russia build up Armenia’s army to take on superior Azerbaijani troops and capture the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, over which both countries claim sovereignty.

Moscow is unhappy with the increasingly western-leaning stance taken by Azerbaijan, since it joined Nato’s North Atlantic Co-operation Council and signed the Partnership for Peace framework document in 1994.

Crucially, it is also aware that its influence in Armenia may be waning.

A senior military source said: “This pipeline intelligence presents a classic grey-zone scenario, whereby Russia achieves the ­disruption of gas supplies to Europe while maintaining plausible deniability.

“Both Turkey and wider Nato will have to increase their defensive resilience.”

Alexander Lord, of Sibylline strategic risk group, said: “Russia has already shown a willingness to undermine energy security.”

China is set to formally propose its 12-point peace plan and Ukraine’s Pres­­ident Volodymyr Zelensky said he would speak to premier Xi Jinping but China’s move has been branded a PR stunt by many.

In the meantime, Mr Zelensky said he believes that Putin – facing increasing calls to be tried for war crimes – would be killed by one of his own inner circle.

He said: “There will certainly be a moment when the fragility of Putin’s regime is felt in Russia. Then the carnivores will eat a carnivore.”

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