Several European countries say they have received significantly less Russian gas than expected in recent weeks.
Gas flows have been halted completely from major a pipeline into Europe for annual maintenance, with Germany expressing fears the shutdown could become permanent.
Western leaders have imposed a series of sanctions on Russian oil and gas following the invasion of Ukraine. There are warnings Russia may stop supplying gas to Europe this winter in retaliation.
The European Union has agreed to ban all Russian oil imports which come in by sea by the end of this year.
It will allow oil to continue to be imported by pipeline, with EU leaders saying this is a “temporary measure” because countries like Hungary and Slovakia depend on it.
The EU has also committed to reducing gas imports from Russia by two-thirds within a year, but it has been hard to get agreement on any further measures, such as an outright import ban.
In addition to these EU sanctions, the US has declared a complete ban on Russian oil and gas imports. The UK is to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
President Putin has demanded that “unfriendly” nations in Europe pay for gas in Russian roubles, which would help prop up the value of the currency.
Poland, Bulgaria and Finland refused to do so and Russia cut off their supplies.
Several other European energy companies are paying for gas via Russian bank accounts, which convert euro payments into roubles. They insist those payments are in line with EU sanctions.
Russia supplied the EU with 40% of its natural gas last year.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was the largest importer of Russia gas in 2020, followed by Italy.
The UK is less reliant on Russian gas, importing just 4% of its needs from there last year, and the US doesn’t import any gas from Russia.
There’s doubt over whether the EU will be able to find other gas supplies than Russia’s.
“It would have to turn to producers such the US and Qatar, which would ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tankers,” says energy advisor Kate Dourian.
“But there aren’t enough LNG terminals in Europe. This is will be a problem for Germany, particularly. It simply doesn’t have the equipment to unload it.”
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Many European nations could have their oil supplies squeezed by the ban on Russian imports.
Lithuania and Finland got about 80% of their oil from Russia in November last year, the latest data available.
However, EU countries can always buy oil from other producers.
The IEA – a club of oil importing countries – have released 120m barrels-worth of crude from their stocks, and US President Joe Biden ordered a major release of oil from America’s reserves.
“Nations like Saudi Arabia might start putting more oil onto the world market later in the year, and there could be more supplies from the US,” says Kate Dourian.
Helped by soaring energy prices, Russia received an estimated €400bn ($430bn, £341bn) over the past year from oil and gas exports to Europe.
The EU says their latest sanctions could cut the amount of oil it buys from Russia by 90%. However, its sanctions will take several months to come into full effect, and even then Russia will be able to sell its oil elsewhere around the world.
- What are the sanctions on Russia?
“Countries in Asia might buy up to one million barrels per day more crude oil from Russia than they are taking now,” says David Fyfe, chief economist with energy data firm Argus Media.
“As a result of all the sanctions announced so far, Russia may lose between one third and a half of its total oil revenues, but not all of them.”
Consumers are facing rising energy and fuel bills as sanctions on Russian energy kick in.
Heating prices are likely to increase even further if Russian gas exports to Europe are restricted.
In the UK, household energy bills have been kept in check by an energy price cap.
But bills rose £700 to about £2,000 in April when the cap was increased. They are expected to reach about £3,000 when the cap is increased again this autumn.
UK petrol and diesel prices have also soared, and the government has announced a cut in fuel duty as motorists struggle with record prices.
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