Europe braced for any gas crisis as Russia sanctions escalate

The showdown with Russian president Vladimir Putin comes at moment of surging global supplies of LNG, which can be diverted to European markets and reduce the Kremlin’s political leverage. The price of LNG in Asia has crashed from $20 to $11 per British thermal unit since February.

The pan-EU group Gas Infrastructure Europe said the network of LNG terminals in Britain and the Continent is currently operating at just 20pc of its full capacity. It could in theory boost flows by 160bn cubic metres (BCM), if there is available gas.

This is more than Russia’s entire shipments, which reached 155 BCM last year. The European network of pipelines does not cover every region and would leave pockets in eastern Europe without supply.

“We have a lot of free capacity in LNG in Europe. It would be extremely difficult to replace Russian gas in a just a few months but it is possible to raise supply,” said one official.

Analysts say Russia is highly unlikely to cut off gas supplies because this would trigger a fiscal crisis in Russia itself and cause Europe to switch permanently to other sources. Yet the political temperature is rising.

Europe’s foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to draw up plans for “further significant restrictive measures” if Russia continues to supply weapons to the rebels in eastern Ukraine. These include “access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector”.

Poland’s foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, a hardliner on sanctions, said the agreement “should make President Putin realise this is for real”. The European Commission will flesh out the plans for EU ambassadors on Thursday, most likely followed by a summit of EU leaders.

Russia’s former finance minister Alexey Kudrin said the situation is becoming critical, warning that full “tier 3” sanctions against the financial and energy sectors could lead to economic collapse, slashing income by up to 20pc.

One LNG analyst said there is enough spare gas worldwide to plug some gaps in Europe in a crisis, but not nearly enough if Mr Putin were to cut off supplies altogether. “The gas price would go through the roof. It would be a massive shock,” he said.

Even so, Europe is in an unusually strong position. The warm winter has left inventories high at 76pc of capacity. A glut of LNG in Korea and Japan has driven Asian prices to a three-year low.

Full article: Europe braced for any gas crisis as Russia sanctions escalate (The Telegraph)

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