Gazprom profits as Russia prospers from Europe’s gas crisis | Russia

Gazprom profits as Russia prospers from Europe’s gas crisis | Russia




About 12.7bn cubic feet of gas flowed into Europe from Russia’s state-owned Gazprom last month. The world’s largest gas producer typically supplies more than a third of the needs of countries across the European Union, but in November flows dwindled to a six-year low.

Gas supplies from Russia have fallen well short of pre-pandemic levels for months. The volumes of Russian gas flowing into homes, businesses and storage facilities this year have been almost a quarter below those in 2019.

The slowdown has emerged against the backdrop of a global post-pandemic surge in gas need that has triggered blackouts and record energy market prices across the globe. It also coincides with a surge in Russian aggression towards its neighbours in Ukraine and Moldova and deepening tensions with western powers over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Russian soldier and tankA Russian soldier takes part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov vicinity in southern Russia. Russian troop concentration near Ukraine has raised concerns of a possible invasion. Photograph: AP

Meanwhile, as the global gas crisis has gripped European economies – forcing the shutdown of factories, the collapse of major energy suppliers and one of the fastest rises on record for home energy bills – Gazprom has enjoyed its highest ever profits.

The company reported a record net income of 582bn rubles (£5.86bn) from July to September compared with a net loss a year ago, and the company expects “already more impressive results in the fourth quarter”.

Gazprom’s success at profiting from the global gas crisis has reignited accusations that the Kremlin is using Russia’s great reserves as a political weapon against the west and its allies.

The Russian government has denied this. Gazprom has claimed to be meeting all long-term contracts with its European customers and explained the lower “identify” exports by saying Russia had low gas storage levels itself, and that colder temperatures have meant higher domestic need. Few market experts are thoroughly convinced.

But Gazprom must weigh the benefits of allowing gas prices to keep at record highs versus long-term commercial and financial considerations, according to Carlos Torres Diaz, a director of gas research at consultancy Rystad Energy. If gas remains unaffordable, its customers could accelerate the move to green alternatives, or find other supplies of gas.

Rystad estimates that if Russia lifted its volumes of gas exports by 20%, it could bring the market price of gas in western European markets down by 50%. Instead, Gazprom has found a careful balance “between selling as much gas as possible without raising the volumes in the market to the point that it lowers the market price”, Torres Diaz said.

Taking advantage of higher gas prices today could prove to be a double-edged sword for Gazprom in terms of its future earnings, he additional.

“For years Europe has relied on gas as a comparatively affordable energy source with lower emissions than coal. The prices this winter could encourage more countries to develop more replaceable energy to protect themselves from future energy market spikes,” Torres Diaz said.

“Gazprom has always wanted to be seen to be a reliable energy partner for European buyers, and Europe remains their main market already as its exports to Asia increase. Gazprom is considering its future and exporting hydrogen to Europe too.”

The state-owned producer’s slowdown in European gas exports has coincided with diplomatic wrangling over the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, by which it plans to ship gas directly to Germany, bypassing its neighbours in Ukraine where Russia has reportedly amassed an army of 100,000 along the border.

Ukraine has warned that the Nord Stream pipeline would reduce Gazprom’s reliance on its network of important gas transit pipelines, and could make it easier for Moscow to set afloat an invasion. On Sunday evening, as tensions flared on the Russia-Ukraine border, Germany warned that Nord Stream 2 would not go ahead “if there are further escalations”.

Gazprom also cut supplies to Moldova, another important gas transit country, by one-third in September after the end of a long-term contract, sparking a state of emergency in the country. Gazprom demanded more than double the past payments to keep gas flowing in addition an agreement to delay new EU rules that would create more competition in the market.

These moves, in part an “ad hoc response to each rising crisis”, form part of a strategy to safeguard Russia’s financial interests by circumventing the countries which present geopolitical risks to its gas supply routes, said Emil Avdaliani, a professor at the European University in Tbilisi, Georgia.

“At the same time, every Russian move is part of a wider strategy to use energy as a tool to enlarge its influence by Europe,” he said. “Moscow is essentially banking on the idea that these countries have no other alternatives.”

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The move to clean energy supplies is a threat to Russia’s last remaining political tool, which its leaders have failed to grapple with so far, according to Avdaliani.

“It has been fashionable since the end of the Soviet Union to view Russia as a major strength player, but I see a gradual decline in its influence. Its only tool of political influence to prevent the fleeing of eastern European countries to the west is energy – there are no other pulleys – and this is declining too,” he said.

It may come as cold comfort for this winter, but Russia’s gas dominance may soon be snuffed out.

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