Ukraine accuses Russia of 'bluffing' in gas standoff with Europe

Energy official says Moscow cannot afford to hold back its reserves indefinitely

A compressor station in Germany, where Russian gas supplies have dried up. EPA
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is bluffing in his energy standoff with Europe because he cannot withhold gas forever, a senior Ukrainian official has said.

Olena Zerkal, an adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, said Mr Putin would have to “burn all of Siberia” to free up space once his gas tanks are full.

Her remarks came amid fears that Nord Stream 1, a crucial Russian pipeline to Germany, will not return to service after maintenance ends this month, increasing pressure on Europe’s energy grids.

With fuel prices already high, there are concerns that western sanctions on Russia will not be able to withstand the pressure, although G7 leaders last month promised to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Speaking to the Chatham House think tank, Ms Zerkal called for unity in the face of what she said were two simultaneous wars: the conflict in Ukraine and what she called a Russian energy war against the West.

“Their underground storages are full,” she said of the Russians. "Yes, they may burn all this amount of gas, but they can burn Siberia with all this amount of gas. Otherwise, they will need to send this gas back to Europe.

“They don’t have any other options. And they are very limited in their possibilities to proceed with this bluff.”

Her comments echoed remarks by German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who said Russia’s gas infrastructure was not merely a “water tap” that could be turned off at will.

Most of Russia’s gas exports to Europe go via pipeline and are not easily rerouted.

Germany, Austria and Italy all said their gas imports were down after Nord Stream 1 stopped operating for servicing.

Ms Zerkal scolded European countries for creating such heavy Russian influence over their power grids and said Ukraine was a fine example of how to diversify.

“We face now the consequences of this strategic mistake,” she said.

“We are in the same boat and we very much rely on the support of Europe in different respects. We know that the turmoil of the situation may destroy this unity.”

Updated: July 12, 2022, 8:02 AM