Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, warned in an interview published on Tuesday (3 January) of the risk for European countries of remaining in the cold, as Ukraine is pumping gas from the underground storage intended to ensure the security of supply in winter.
Chizhov was interviewed by the Russian news agency Interfax and made the comment in the context of summing up the state of EU-Russian affairs. Conducted in Russian, the interview was republished on the website of the Russian mission to the EU.
Chizhov spoke in positive terms about the trilateral gas talks, facilitated by the European Commission, aimed at ensuring the Winter Package, under which the EU helps Ukraine buy the Russian gas it needs during winter.
For a third consecutive year, the EU is mediating between Ukraine and Russia in securing Ukraine’s gas purchases from Russia, which are also needed to secure the transit of Russian gas to the bloc.
The Russian diplomat warned that for the agreements to function, Ukraine needed to buy gas from Russia. Instead, he said, Ukraine was pumping gas from the underground storage facilities built during the Soviet era, the main aim of which is to ensure security of supply during harsh winters.
Chizov said that the optimal level of gas held in the underground depots was 19 billion cubic metres (bcm), while the minimal level to ensure security of supply for the West was 17 bcm. But at the time of the last trilateral talks last December, the level was only 14 bcm, and probably even lower today, as Ukraine siphoned gas for its own needs, he said.
Maximal and minimal levels correspond to the scenarios in case of mild or harsh winters. Chizhov said that the beginning of the winter was likely to be a harsh one.
Ukraine’s underground gas depots were built in a way that allowed either refilling them, or taking gas out of them, both processes being unable to take place simultaneously, Chizhov explained.
“If all of a sudden, Ukraine decided to fill the gas storages, it would need to cut the supply for its own territory,” he said.
Another circumstance poisoning relations between Moscow and Kyiv was a $6.6 billion fine imposed by a court in Ukraine on his country’s gas export monopoly, Gazprom, the Russian ambassador added.
Chizhov said that Ukraine insisted that the court case was unrelated to the trilateral talks, but added that the Ukrainian authorities could use the court decision as a pretext to confiscate Russian gas destined for the EU. He added that Alexander Novak, his country’s energy minister, has warned not only the European Commission about this, but the 18 EU countries importing Russian gas.
Ukraine also warns the EU of a looming gas crisis but blames Russia.
Continued tensions between Moscow and Kyiv over gas transit indirectly favour gas projects aimed at bypassing Ukraine as a gas transit country, particularly the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.