European leaders have boasted of reducing their reliance on Russian gas since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. But that is only part of the truth.
While the supply of natural gas delivered by pipeline fell sharply this year, Russia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports into the EU rose 46 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2022, according to figures from the European Commission.
For EU countries, the risk is that the growing use of LNG shipped by sea from Russia could put Europe at the mercy of a new round of gas blackmail from Putin in 2023, just as the bloc seeks to top up its gas reserves. for the winter.
It has been a point of pride for EU officials that countries have reduced their purchases of Russian fossil fuels since the start of the war, as leaders sought to debase the Kremlin’s finances. “We must cut Russia’s income, which Putin uses to finance his atrocious war in Ukraine,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in September.
And while pipeline gas supply cuts have been drastic, a combination of Russia restricting pipeline flows and EU countries diversifying their imports, Europe’s lower LNG trade with Russia tells a different story.
Statistics shared by the Commission show that between January and September 2022, EU countries imported 16.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Russian LNG, compared to 11.3 bcm in the same period of the year. last year.
The increase in LNG imports is small compared to the huge drop in Russian pipeline gas imports, which halved from 105.7 bcm in the first nine months of last year to 54.2 bcm in the same period this year, according to Commission figures. But the LNG rally runs counter to EU rhetoric and is not without inherent risks, energy market analysts said.
France, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium have been the top importers of Russian LNG in 2022, according to an analysis by energy market monitoring group Montel, with a third of Russian LNG shipments to Europe destined for France and nearly a quarter to Spain.
Most of the Russian LNG arriving in Europe comes from energy company Novatek, which operates the Yamal LNG terminal in northwestern Siberia, in which French energy giant TotalEnergies is a minority shareholder. Some European countries have long-term agreements to import LNG that have several years to go.
Unlike the majority Russian state-owned Gazprom, which has a monopoly on pipeline exports, Novatek is an independent company but has “shareholders”. [who] they are close to the Kremlin, which can strongly influence their operations,” according to an analysis published by the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University.
Only two countries in Europe, the UK and Lithuania, have completely stopped Russian LNG imports.
Anne-Sophie Corbeau, a global researcher at Columbia, said it was “very convenient for everyone to turn a blind eye to Russian LNG flows” into Europe.
In economic terms, Corbeau said, “it made sense” for Europe to keep importing LNG from Russia for now. Removing Russian LNG from the EU market would mean that European countries would buy more LNG from other parts of the world, driving up prices for poorer Asian countries.
“The prices would be stratospheric and that would be extremely bad not only for Europe but also for many countries that could not afford [LNG]Corbeau said.
But he added that rising Russian LNG imports raised the potential for “Russia to use LNG as a geopolitical weapon,” just as it has done with pipeline gas. Putin could potentially block exports to “unfriendly” countries while continuing to provide a gas lifeline to poorer states in Asia suffering from severe energy shortages.
Such a move could have consequences for the EU in 2023, amid fresh warnings from the International Energy Agency that Europe could face a gas supply gap of up to 30 bcm during next summer’s storage filling season.
Svitlana Romanko, director of the Ukrainian campaign group Razom We Stand, which is pushing for a full EU embargo on Russian fossil fuels, said there was a clear moral case for ditching Russian LNG imports.
“While the EU talks tough about sanctions and embargoes, the reality is that very little is being done to reduce LNG imports,” Romanko said. “Europe needs to take action now and stop this absurd and counterproductive funding of the Russian war machine.”
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.