How Europe Slowly Made Itself Immune To Russia's Threats

The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies is out with a note on the Ukraine crisis’ potential impact on Europe gas imports (spotted by Mike Levi).

The conclusion: most of the continent would not be affected should Russia step on the gas hose leading out of Ukraine.

Europe is in a better position to handle a potential disruption than it was on previous occasions (2006 and 2009). Following the completion of the Nord Stream pipeline in 2012, only about 50% of the Russian gas to Europe transits via Ukraine, down from 80% previously. Russian gas to Northwest and Central Europe is largely supplied through the Nord Stream pipeline (from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea) and the Yamal-Europe pipeline (from Russia via Belarus and Poland to Germany).

Oxford views the threat of a shutdown of the non-Ukraine infrastructure as remote.

Here’s the list of overall Russia import totals. The leader, Italy, has a number of different fallback options, including beefing up imports from Northwest Europe or North Africa. Turkey, No. 2, remains slightly more exposed, though it could simply increase its LNG imports, a not-inexpensive but perfectly viable option.

The list of countries the get the greatest chunk of their gas on a percentage basis from Russia has also some built-in cushions. Although Bulgaria and the Czech Republic get huge percentages of their gas from Russia, they both have more than a month’s-worth of backup storage. Mosts at risk, then, is Greece and Romania, who get about 50% of their supplies from Russia with no apparent backup storage. Not listed are Serbia and Bosnia, which also get at least half their supplies from Russia — Oxford says those countries were most affected

The most enlightening nugget in the report is the scenario by which a gas cut-off is most likely to occur. It turns it would have less to do with geopolitics and more to do with finance: Naftogaz Ukrainy, the principal gas firm in Ukraine, is $US2 billion in debt to Gazprom, the Russian state oil giant. In the past, Oxford says, this debt build-up has led to a gas cut-off.

Such a dispute now seems possible, even likely, (i) because the political and strategic dispute between Russia and Ukraine is so serious, and political tensions so high, that the possibilities of reaching a negotiated settlement of the financial issues are limited, and (ii) because Naftogaz’s indebtedness is chronic, and is part of a larger problem — that of Ukrainian state indebtedness.

But overall, the means at Russia’s disposal for striking back at increased sanctions, at least as far as energy goes, seem more limited than ever.

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