Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom is to reduce gas transit volumes across Ukraine to Europe, despite high demand on the continent due to persistent cold weather.
The decision comes as Gazprom’s two major transit routes to Europe — Nord Stream across the Baltic Sea and the Yamal pipeline across Poland — continue to operate at full capacity, according to network transparency data from European operators Gascade and Opal.
The operator of Ukraine’s state-run transmission network, Operator GTS Ukrainy, said it started to see a reduction in daily transit volumes on 17 February, which had previosuly been running at the contracted capacity of about 119 million cubic metres per day.
On 20 February, Gazprom sent just 67 MMcm of gas via Ukraine to Europe, the lowest for this year, according to the operator, with transit flows recovering just slightly to 70 MMcm on 23 February.
Gazprom has provided no explanation for its decision to reduce gas transit flows across Ukraine below its commitments for February.
According to Operator GTS, Gazprom’s commitments amount to 109 MMcmd under the five-year gas transit agreement with Ukraine and additional 14.2 MMcmd of transmission capacity that the Russian company has booked above this for this month.
Industry analysts in Moscow have called for caution, highlighting that the Kremlin had previously ordered Gazprom to reduce or fully halt gas transit shipments across Ukraine to Europe during periods of high demand to achieve its own political goals.
Nord Stream 2 in spotlight
A partner in Moscow-based consultancy RusEnergy, Mikhail Krutikhin, has suggested that the Kremlin could stage a new interruption to European gas supplies, blaming Ukraine for failing to properly maintain its gas pipeline network.
European nations remain divided over the fate of Gazprom’s project to build a second subsea gas export pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 2, with calls mounting to suspend the project following the Russian state crackdown on opposition leaders and freedoms in January and February.
With about 120 kilometres of subsea pipes left to complete in Danish and German waters of the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 2 would allow Gazprom to fully halt gas transit supplies across Ukraine.
Operator GTS has, meanwhile, reported about 18.5 Bcm of gas in vast underground storage facilities in the west of the country as of 23 February, with analysts pointing to the possibility of using some of this stored volume to cover any potential interruptions in Russian gas flows via Ukraine.
Cold snap in Russian regions
However, there are signs that Gazprom is also seeing a strong rebound in domestic demand following the extreme cold and snowy weather in many Russian regions, with the monopoly facing the need to rapidly increase its daily gas production.
According to the company’s gas producing subsidiary, Gazpromdobycha Nadym, Gazprom’s core gas field in West Siberia, Bovanenkovo, has reached its producing capacity of 389 MMcmd.
The subsidiary has acknowledged that it had to push back the planned maintenance at field’s facilities and connect back-up units to be capable of keeping the production rate.