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ENERGY

EU raids Gazprom’s German offices in antitrust price probe

EU antitrust investigators raided the German offices of Gazprom, sources said on Thursday, on suspicion that the Russian energy giant had illegally pushed up prices in Europe.

Archive photo shows Gazprom logo in Berlin.
Archive photo shows Gazprom logo in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Hannibal Hanschke

The European Commission, in a statement, said its teams carried out unannounced inspections on Tuesday “at the premises of several companies in Germany active in the supply, transmission and storage of natural gas”.

Two sources familiar with the matter said that a main target of the operation was Gazprom, the state gas giant that is accused of sparking an energy crunch in the European Union.

According to a report by Bloomberg, officials visited offices of companies that included the giant’s Gazprom Germania GmbH and Wingas GmbH, which supply about 20 percent of the German market.

The commission, the EU’s powerful antitrust authority, is currently looking into allegations that Gazprom squeezed its European clients by limiting supply, causing prices to skyrocket.

Gazprom has a powerful hand over the EU with Russia providing roughly 40 percent of its gas supply, mainly to Germany, Italy and a few eastern European countries.

The gas flow to the EU has become an object of discord in the war in Ukraine, with Kiev calling on the Europeans to cut off their Russian supply line to punish the Kremlin for its invasion.

But led by Germany, the EU has refrained from an energy embargo against Russia, fearing the heavy consequences to the economy, especially factories that would risk short term closure if the supply were to stop suddenly.

Germany and Austria on Wednesday raised the alert level under their emergency gas plans over fears that Russia could cut off supplies.

Given the tensions, the European Union has announced plans to slash its imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year.

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ENERGY

Russia using energy ‘as weapon’, says Berlin

German Economy Minister Robert Habeck accused Russia on Thursday of using energy as "a weapon", after Moscow announced sanctions on Western energy firms and a key pipeline again saw lower gas deliveries to Europe.

Russia using energy 'as weapon', says Berlin

“It has to be said that the situation is coming to a head, in such a way that the use of energy as a weapon is now being realised in several areas,” Habeck told a press conference.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, on a visit to the German capital, said Moscow had shown itself to be an unreliable supplier.

Kuleba urged Europe to end its heavy dependence on Russian gas that was helping to finance Moscow’s war machine.

“This energy oxygen for Russia must be turned off and that is especially important for Europe,” Kuleba said at a joint press conference with Habeck.

“Europe must get rid of this complete dependence on Russian gas, since Russia has shown… that it is not a reliable partner and Europe cannot afford that.”

Russia on Thursday said it would stop sending natural gas via the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline as part of retaliation for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

The move comes a day after Russia issued a government decree imposing sanctions on 31 EU, US and Singaporean energy firms.

Most of the companies belong to the Gazprom Germania group of subsidiaries of Russian energy giant Gazprom.

The sanctions include a ban on transactions and the entry into Russian ports of vessels linked to the affected companies.

Meanwhile, operators on Thursday reported a drop in gas supplies from Russia via Ukraine for a second day, after Kyiv said it would suspend flows through a key eastern transit pipeline called Sokhranivka because the area wasno longer under Ukrainian control.

But Gazprom has denied there was a case for the Ukrainian side to declare “force majeure” and said it was impossible to reroute all the supplies through another Ukrainian pipeline.

‘Blackmail’ fears

Gazprom told the Interfax news agency that supplies transiting Ukraine on Thursday were at 50.6 million cubic metres in total, compared to 72 million cubic metres the day before.

Germany, which is hugely reliant on Russian energy, said it had been able to make up the shortfall through gas imports from Norway and the Netherlands.

The head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, Klaus Mueller, also noted that Russia had been very “surgical” about its pick on which companies to sanction, selecting only storage and trading companies, and “not the operators”.

This “very well-planned, precise decree allows it to keep doing business with Germany, but not on old contract conditions”, rather under new conditions that other gas dealers would then have to conclude with Russia, said Mueller.

Europe’s biggest economy is racing to wean itself off Russian energy and has already almost completely phased out Russian coal.

But ditching Russian oil and gas will be more difficult.

With fears growing that Russia could abruptly turn off the energy taps, Habeck said Germany was focusing on building up gas reserves to prepare for winter.

“The gas storage facilities must be full by winter or else we will be in a situation where we can easily be blackmailed,” he warned.

READ ALSO: Russian gas transit halt in Ukraine hits key pipeline’s inflow in Germany

By Michelle FITZPATRICK

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