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How Nord Stream became so important in Europe’s gas war

Here’s a look at the key routes, and how they have all been compromised in various ways as the tension between Russia and Europe has escalated. 
Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Europe is waiting for dawn on Thursday to find out whether Russia will restart natural gas flows via its biggest pipeline after maintenance.

President Vladimir Putin has signaled the supply will resume — but at lower levels and with conditions. With Moscow already curbing flows via other routes, Nord Stream is more crucial than ever. Maintenance is due to end by 6 a.m. Berlin time, and the first data on flows will be closely watched by traders and policy makers alike.

Here’s a look at the key routes, and how they have all been compromised in various ways as the tension between Russia and Europe has escalated.

Nord Stream 

The undersea pipeline to Germany is the main route. It delivered more than a third of Russia’s total gas exports to Europe last year, with peak capacity of about 167 million cubic meters a day.

Last month, Russia slashed supplies through the link to just 40% of that level, citing delays to gas-turbine maintenance because of Canadian sanctions. The equipment is crucial for the Portovaya compressor station, which is the entry point for Nord Stream on Russia’s side of the Baltic Sea.

Only two gas turbines at the station are able to handle the flows, according to Russia, while normally it’s six. And one component out of those two will need to go for maintenance as soon as next week, Putin said. He said that would mean Nord Stream could only operate at 20% of capacity — unless Russia gets back the replacement turbine that was caught up in Canadian sanctions.

The part is on its way now via Germany. Putin has also demanded all the relevant paperwork is delivered.

Transit via Ukraine

Russia can export some 110 million cubic meters a day via Ukraine under a five-year gas transit agreement reached in December 2019, with volumes split between two key entry points at the border.

In May, one of them — Sokhranovka, also known as Sokhranivka in Ukrainian — was put out of service by Ukraine’s grid which said it lost control of the facility because of occupying forces. Kyiv has on numerous occasions called for Gazprom PJSC to re-route or at least get volumes back to contractual levels through the remaining point, but Russia has rejected that. It says rerouting — which has been used in the past — is currently not possible.

Yamal-Europe

The pipeline, which runs through Belarus and Poland to Germany with a capacity to deliver some 90 million cubic a day, has been out of action since May, when the Russian government prohibited Gazprom from any cooperation with EuRoPol Gaz, the owner of the Polish section of the link.

Not long before that, Gazprom halted supplies to Poland as the country was among the first ones to refuse to comply with the Kremlin’s demand that gas should be paid for in rubles. The link is currently working in reverse, taking gas from Germany to Poland.

TurkStream

Flows via the pipeline, which delivers Russian gas under the Black Sea to Turkey and supplies several countries in southwestern Europe, are going normally for now.

The Europe Union gets about 40 million cubic meters a day from this link.

Nord Stream 2

The pipeline, set to match Nord Stream 1 in capacity and carry gas across the Baltic Sea to Germany, was ready to start deliveries in December, despite a series of hurdles including US sanctions. It was just awaiting final regulatory approvals.

Then just before Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, and under international pressure, Germany ditched the project it had long defended. Moscow insists the link is still available for use.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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