Russia says Western sanctions are preventing it from maintaining a crucial natural-gas-export pipeline that supplies Turkey and the Balkans, potentially worsening Europe’s energy crisis.
South Stream Transport B.V., the Dutch unit of Kremlin-controlled gas giant Gazprom responsible for serving the underwater pipeline to Turkey, said the Netherlands revoked its license as of September 17.
In a letter to managers of South Stream Transport B.V. on September 14 obtained by RFE/RL, company director Oleg Aksyutin ordered them to stop all work, including canceling contracts with Western suppliers.
“Suspend the execution of all contracts related to the technical support of the gas pipeline,” he wrote in the letter, “including design, manufacture, assembly, testing, repair, maintenance, and training.”
Dutch and Turkish officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
TurkSteam, which runs under the Black Sea to Turkey, has the capacity to deliver 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year. Turkey consumes half of it and the remainder is destined for the Balkans and Central Europe, especially Serbia and Hungary.
TurkStream lies 3 kilometers below the sea in waters with high seismic activity. Specialized ships regularly monitor the pipeline for damage and quickly make repairs. The equipment needed to monitor and repair the pipeline is largely imported from the West.
The call to end contracts means that “no one will be able to carry out repairs if a pipe is damaged, gas leaks, or if a part of the pipeline comes apart due to an earthquake. In fact, the company has lost operational control over the pipeline, the Russian branch has lost contact with the corporate center,” a Russian source at South Stream Transport B.V. told RFE/RL.
Russia earlier this year cut exports through Nord Stream 1, its main gas pipeline to Europe, claiming Western sanctions impaired the ability to maintain the underwater pipeline in the Baltic Sea, driving EU gas prices to record highs. Last month, it completely cut exports along Nord Stream 1.
Earlier this week, explosions damaged the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines. The EU and NATO called it “sabotage,” with some EU officials accusing Russia of being behind the attack.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement and pointed the finger at the United States, an accusation that Washington immediately dismissed.
Western leaders have accused Russia of using the sanctions as an excuse to cut gas exports to Europe in an attempt to inflict severe economic pain and weaken EU support for Ukraine.
A shutdown of TurkStream due to damage could severely impact Hungary, one of the EU countries most dependent on Russian gas imports.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been the most vocal opponent of EU sanctions on Russia, undermining the bloc’s united front against the Kremlin.
Security of the TurkStream Is a Priority for Hungary, says Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó
The importance of the TurkStream gas pipeline has been increased by the fact that the operation of the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea is not guaranteed, said Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó at a meeting of energy ministers from the Organization of Turkic States (OCT) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday.
He therefore called on the leaders of the countries through which the pipeline passes to pay attention to the functioning of the TurkStream.
The export license suspension could be a temporary bureaucratic hurdle to Russian gas export, with no impact on physical deliveries. PAIntelligence is currently inquiring whether any maintenance or repair work is imminent for TurkStream. Alternatively, the Putin may be redoubling hi threat to starve European off gas by conjuring up excuses for shutting off the TurkStream. We wonder whether in this scenario Turkey would continue to get gas through some special arrangement.
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