Russian gas cuts in Europe cause global uncertainty

Washington (CNN) — The Biden administration is working hard behind the scenes to hold European allies together against Russia as Moscow further cuts its energy supplies to the European Union, causing panic on both sides of the Atlantic over potential gas shortages ahead of winter. borealis, US officials say.

On Monday, Russia’s state gas company Gazprom said it would halve the flow of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany, to 20% of its capacity. A US official said the move was retaliation for Western sanctions, and put the West in “uncharted territory” when it comes to whether Europe will have enough gas to get through the winter.

In response to the turmoil, the White House sent the presidential coordinator for global energy, Amos Hochstein, to Europe on Tuesday, according to the officials. Hochstein will travel to Paris and Brussels to discuss contingency plans with the US-European Union energy task force set up in March, a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This was our biggest fear,” the US official said. The shock to Europe could spill over to the United States, driving up natural gas and electricity prices, the official said. It will also be an important test of European resilience and unity vis-à-vis Russia, as the Kremlin shows no signs of withdrawing from Ukraine.

The US and Brussels have called on European Union members to save gas and store it for the winter, and on Tuesday energy ministers agreed in principle to cut gas use by 15% from August to March.

The possibility of increasing nuclear power production across Europe to make up for gas shortages will also be discussed in the coming days, according to the officials. Germany had planned to completely phase out the use of nuclear power by the end of 2022, but US officials hope to convince Berlin to extend the life of its three remaining nuclear power plants amid the energy crisis, an official said.

US officials, who have been in close contact in particular with German and French officials on this issue, are deeply concerned that Europe faces severe gas shortages ahead of the winter. This is because EU countries will find it difficult to fill their reserves in the coming months, as Nord Stream 1 will only provide part of its capacity.

Germany scrapped plans for another gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, Nord Stream 2, after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. The United States opposed such a pipeline, warning that it would only increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. But Germany argued that the pipeline was a purely commercial project, and that it could serve as an energy bridge while phasing out nuclear power and coal. In the end, the United States granted a waiver that allowed the pipeline project to go ahead without sanctions being imposed.

Now authorities say a 15% cut in Europe’s gas consumption, coupled with an increase in global exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe, including from the US, is unlikely to be enough to offset the shortage.

“This is an open gas war that Russia is waging against a united Europe,” Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said on Tuesday. The US official said it was clear the Russians are “lashing out” and trying to “destabilize Europe” because they are not achieving their goals in Ukraine.

A National Security Council spokesman called Russia’s moves its latest attempts to “use natural gas as a political and economic weapon.”

“Russia’s energy coercion has put pressure on energy markets, raised prices for consumers, and threatened global energy security. These actions only underscore the importance of the work being done by the United States and the European Commission to end our dependence on Russian energy,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to work with our European partners to reduce dependence on Russian energy and support their efforts to prepare for further Russian destabilization of energy markets.”