Russia appeared to expand its retaliation against Western sanctions on Thursday by cutting in half its natural gas flows to European Union member state Slovakia. Prime Minister Robert Fico told a news conference in Bratislava his country had been caught up in a “political war where gas is being used as a weapon.”
After an emergency government session, Fico said the national gas company SSP had concluded a five year deal with Germany’s E.on to receive up to two million cubic meters of gas per day via Austria to compensate for the drop in Russian supplies.
Fico said SPP had recorded a more than 50 percent decline in flows for the second day in a row after smaller reductions throughout September.
A pipeline otherwise used to deliver Russian gas through Slovakia to the Czech Republic could be used to reverse flows.
Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency got it the other way around, claiming it was the reverse pumping from the Czech Republic that caused the drop in Russian supplies.
However, Slovakia is not the first country formerly in Russia’s East Bloc to see a drop in gas supplies. Last month, Poland’s state energy group reported gas flows from Russia has fallen by almost a quarter after it had begun exporting gas to Ukraine to make up for shortfalls there. Ukraine subsequently accused Russia’s gas giant Gazprom of penalizing Poland.
Poland, the most powerful of former Soviet satellite states and an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin’s policy to subvert the pro-Western government in Kiev, has also been subjected to Russian agricultural bans. They came into effect after the European Union tightened its sanctions on Russia in July when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine, apparently by pro-Russian militants fighting there in hopes of seceding from Ukraine and joining the Russian Federation.
Fico’s administration, by contrast, has had warmer relations with Russia and once criticized European sanctions.
Western powers first imposed financial sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Several European countries, including Germany, Italy and Spain, were seen as reluctant at the time to threaten severing their ties with Russia further.
The European Union as a whole gets roughly a third of its natural gas from Russia, giving Putin significant leverage over his western neighbors. Some of the former Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe are almost wholly dependent on Russia for energy supplies.
But the dependence goes both ways. Despite recent energy deals with China and Turkey, Russia cannot divert gas flows from one day to the next and its economy is highly dependent on hydrocarbon exports.
Hence, perhaps, the targeting of small countries like Slovakia that are not so anti-Russian to begin with. Feeling squeezed, it could block further sanctions against Russia in Brussels where unanimity between the European Union’s member states is needed to enact more punitive measures.