Putin threatens Europe again as Brussels prepares for winter – POLITICO

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The EU’s response to the energy crisis is gaining momentum, slowly. But so does the threat posed by Russia’s freezing of gas supplies to Europe.

A new package of measures to lower gas prices and protect consumers this winter and beyond – including plans to take full advantage of the EU’s collective buying power – will be formally proposed by the Commission European next week.

But there remains uncertainty over key aspects of the package – including whether many countries’ favorite intervention, an EU-wide cap on gas prices, will be part of it, and if so, in what form . It could also take until November for next week’s proposals to be fully approved and operational, officials said.

Even as energy ministers deliberated the measures in Prague on Wednesday, Russia issued new veiled warnings about the depths of Europe’s vulnerability.

Speaking at an energy conference in Moscow, Gazprom chief Alexey Miller warned European homes could freeze again this winter, even as EU countries have almost filled their gas storage capacity .

At the same event, Vladimir Putin spoke about the sabotage of Nord Stream pipelines – an act that many Western governments suspect was the work of Russia. Then he added emphatically that the incident had shown how “any critical transportation, energy or communications infrastructure is at risk – no matter what part of the world it is in, by whom it is controlled, laid on the seabed or on land. ”

Noting that one of the pipelines is still potentially operational after the attack, Putin insisted that Russia was ready to send gas there to ease Europe’s pain this winter, updating his comprehensive strategy to gas blackmail against Europe.

“The ball, as they say, is on the side of the European Union. If they want, let them just turn on the tap,” Putin said. “We are ready to supply additional volumes in the autumn-winter period.”

Putin may still be hoping that when the reality of a winter without Russian gas begins to bite, European governments will be more open to such overtures – and more willing to curb support for Ukraine in return for a lifeline. energy rescue.

For his part, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson made it clear that while the bloc faces “difficult times”, the countries will weather the challenges ahead if they “act together, decisively and in solidarity”. .

Speaking after an informal summit of EU energy ministers on Wednesday, she added that the next crisis package would also contain a proposal for a new reference price for gas and new measures to reduce demand across the block.

But as a row over gas price caps has dominated the debate in recent weeks, the momentum has shifted to the idea of ​​group buying in the international market. It is hoped that with this measure the bloc can avoid the situation seen this year when member states outbid each other for supplies when filling gas storage facilities, driving up the price for all.

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson | John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

In an informal guidance document published on Wednesday, Germany and the Netherlands explained how such a measure could work, by strengthening the existing EU energy platform, which was created months ago but barely used. Efforts to buy gas jointly should be accompanied by better coordination of EU-wide gas storage next year, according to the German and Dutch newspaper.

The proposals show how the EU is no longer just planning how to survive this winter without permanent blackouts. He is now firmly anticipating a crisis next winter as well.

International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol, who also attended Wednesday’s summit in Prague, warned ministers that “next winter may well be even tougher”.

That message was echoed in a sobering briefing from the EU’s Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators, which highlighted how challenging 2023 and potentially 2024 could be for the bloc’s energy supply. Against the backdrop of an expected increase in demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia, the EU will face increased competition for limited supplies of LNG from sources such as the United States and Qatar.

In short, every molecule of gas left in European storage after this winter could be vital – and Vladimir Putin knows it.

Victor Jack and America Hernandez provided additional information.