SLOVAKIA, as well as other European countries, is reporting a reduction in supplies of Russian natural gas from Ukraine. The current reductions do not pose a threat to gas consumers in Slovakia, and the country says it is prepared for a possible gas crisis. While Russian Gazprom claims that technical issues are behind the lower gas supplies, politicians and analysts also see a political message behind the reduction. In spite of decreased gas supplies, Slovakia has resolved to continue its reverse gas flow to Ukraine.
“It is a technical problem. This is the official stance of Gazprom,” Slovak Economy Minister Pavol Pavlis said on September 17, as cited by the SITA newswire, in response to gas supplies being reduced by about one quarter compared to usual levels. “Nevertheless, gas supplies still exceed consumption in Slovakia.”
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller, in his stance on lower gas supplies, explained that at the question were so-called additional gas volume supplies and that after pumping the required volumes of gas into their reservoirs, they will be able to fulfil the other requirements of their European clients, SITA wrote.
According to Miller, Gazprom provides stable daily gas supplies to Europe which are in line with contracts. It promises that it will fully satisfy demand for gas in Russia as well as abroad in 2014.
According to Pavlis, Slovakia does not need to tap into reverse gas flows from Austria or the Czech Republic for now.
“In the event that gas supplies are cut by 50 percent or more, we would launch from one day to another the mentioned reverse flows,” said Pavlis, adding that this would mean higher gas prices because the transit route is more expensive.
The national gas utility Slovenský Plynárenský Priemysel (SPP) first reported reductions in gas supplies during the second week of September, which were about 10 percent. They have since increased to about 25 percent.
Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák responded to the reduced supplies by saying that he cannot imagine that Slovakia would limit or lower the supplies of the reverse gas flow to Ukraine, the TASR newswire reported on September 11. His statement came after reports by the Russian media that the Russian parliament might consider limiting or stopping the gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine, if the information about the re-export of Russian gas to Ukraine from EU countries through reverse gas flows is confirmed, TASR wrote. In that event, Russia would use the reserve capacities of the North Stream pipeline.
Poland, Hungary and Slovakia have been shipping gas to Ukraine via so-called reverse flows to help Ukraine, after Russian Gazprom halted gas supplies over a price dispute. Slovakia launched a reverse gas flow via the Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline on September 2. The Slovak-Ukrainian reverse flow has the biggest potential daily capacity of the three reverse flow pipelines to Ukraine, at 27 million cubic metres.
Lajčák pointed out that curbing the reverse flow is not a question of a political decision.
“In question are specific contracts between companies,” said Lajčák, as cited by TASR, pointing out that full capacity of the Vojany-Uzhgorod pipeline was booked through the end of 2019. “This means that the state has neither the possibility nor the interest in entering into this.”
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico perceives the reduced gas supplies as a sanctions message from Russia to Europe. He said during a discussion programme of the public broadcaster RTVS on September 15 that the sanctions war between the EU and Russia hurts both sides, and that it is a pity that the EU has imposed the sanctions. He added that it is possible that since there is still no existing agreement between Gazprom and Ukraine over the gas price, the gas flow may be fully halted in January 2015.
“But we are prepared for this,” said Fico, as cited by SITA. “Slovakia has two flows via the Czech Republic and Austria, through which it is able to secure triple the gas volume it needs for domestic consumption.”
No gas crisis for now
SPP reported on September 17 an approximate 23-percent reduction in gas supplies. Slovak gas companies do not consider the situation to be worrying.
“We continue to be able to secure stable supplies for all our clients,” SPP spokesperson Peter Bednár told SITA.
Moreover, SPP has a diversification contract for additional gas supplies that should be available to Slovak consumers should a crisis occur. E.ON Ruhrgas would provide up to 500 million cubic metres of gas per year from its western resources to Slovakia in the event of a crisis.
Also, the second biggest gas supplier in Slovakia, RWE Gas Slovensko, guarantees smooth gas supplies to its clients, SITA wrote. This supplier can rely on its German parent company RWE, which has already announced that it has enough gas stored in underground reservoirs.
Slovakia can also receive gas via reverse flows from the Czech Republic and Austria. Its underground gas reservoirs are almost completely full and Minister Pavlis estimates that Slovakia, in the event of being cut off from gas flows from Ukraine, can proceed without problems for six months.
Slovakia experienced a gas crisis in January 2009 when it was cut off from gas supplies for almost two weeks.
Parliamentary committees discuss Ukraine
The sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia were on the agenda of a joint parliamentary Foreign Affairs and European Affairs Committee session on September 17 convened by the opposition, TASR wrote.
According to Lajčák, who spoke at the session, Slovakia respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine, condemns the actions of the Russian Federation that violate these principles, and lends support to the European Union’s sanctions against Russia.
“Of course, we discuss the sanctions,” Lajčák said, as quoted by TASR. “Slovakia belongs among the most vulnerable countries due to our energy and security dependence on Russia. Hence, logically, we are responding to the sanctions in a different way.”
The minister added that it is the actions, and not the strong rhetoric of some countries that must be scrutinised. Some countries verbally condemned Russia, but then concluded multi-million contracts with it, he said. The minister also stressed that Slovakia has acted fairly and called on the EU to also be fair in its foreign policies towards its members.
“We should suffer the impact of the sanctions together,” the minister added, as quoted by TASR. “We refuse to become the stick with which to beat [Russian President Vladimir] Putin over his head, while being the only one to bear the costs. Every country pursues and defends its state interests and that’s what Slovakia must do, too.”
According to the minister, Slovakia always has and will continue to promote the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
“This is a conflict between two countries that are both close to us,” Lajčák said, as quoted by TASR. “It would be a mistake to view it through the prism of who is with Putin and who is with [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko. I do not want Ukrainians to feel that the Slovak nation turned its back on them.”
He pointed to the reverse gas flow to Ukraine, saying that it significantly contributes to the energy security of Ukraine.
“Slovak solidarity is visible and appreciated,” the minister stressed, as quoted by TASR. “Our interest is in having a stable and prosperous Ukraine. It will always be our neighbour and thus we have to help. History will remember who provided aid and who turned their back.”
Two-time former prime minister and foreign affairs minister Mikuláš Dzurinda of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) sees the conflict as being rooted in the fact that Ukraine chose to orient itself towards the West, and Russia retaliated.
“This needs to be told to Slovak citizens first and foremost,” Dzurinda said, as quoted by TASR. “It is not a conspiracy of the CIA against Russia, but the decision of citizens on Maidan [Square].”
Dzurinda added that Russia is reacting aggressively because it is attempting to maintain its position of global power.
22. Sep 2014 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková