Newsnight: Eastern Europe in clutches of Russia over gas

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Over two months after the invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv has dealt a devastating blow to Russia’s energy empire by suspending the flow of gas through a key transit point. Even as Russian forces invade Ukraine and bomb civilian structures, the country has continued to remain to be a significant transit route for Russian gas flowing to the European Union. According to Ukrainian officials, the Sokhranivka route delivers almost a third of the fossil fuels that flow from Russia through Ukraine.

Ukraine blamed the advances made by Russian forces as the reason for this move, adding that Russian occupying forces were stealing gas flowing through the pipeline and sending it to Russia- back separatist states of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukrainian gas operator GTSOU announced that it would stop shipments via the Sokhranivka route from Wednesday, declaring “force majeure”, a clause invoked when a business is hit by something beyond its control.

The operator suggested that it would shift all volumes of gas from Russia to the Sudzha interconnection point further west of the country.

However, Gazprom, the Russian-state backed energy behemoth described the proposal as “technologically impossible.”

GTSOU CEO Sergiy Makogon said that Russian occupying forces had started taking gas transiting through Ukraine and sending it to two Russia-backed separatist regions in the country’s east.

However, he did not cite evidence for this.

If these claims are true, then this is a significant blow to Putin’s forces in the east of Ukraine, as separatist groups in Donetsk and Luhansk support the Russian military in capturing Ukrainian cities in the east.

The company added that it was unable to operate at the Novopskov gas compressor station due to “the interference of the occupying forces in technical processes”.

This gas compressor station had been taken over by Russian troops and separatist forces early on during Russia’s invasion.

This is the first such station in the Ukrainian gas transit system at the Luhansk region.

According to GTSOU, the transit route from this station carries around 32.6 million cubic metres of gas a day, or a third of the Russian gas which is piped to Europe through Ukraine

The gas operator said that in order to fulfil its “transit obligations to European partners in full” it would “temporarily transfer unavailable capacity” to the Sudzha interconnection point.

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State energy firm Naftogaz head Yuriy Vitrenko noted that Ukraine’s suspension of Russian natural gas flows through the Sokhranivka route should not have an impact on the domestic Ukrainian market.

Gazprom refuted Ukraine’s account, noting no proof of “force majeure” or any obstacles that were blocking the flow of gas through the transit point.

The energy giant noted that it was continuing to meet all of its obligations to its customers in Europe.

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