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Polish gas boss warns EU to heed Moldova lessons on Russia reliance

Moldova’s gas crisis was a warning to Europe of the risks of being too dependent on Russia’s Gazprom, the chief executive of Poland’s state-controlled gas group PGNiG has said.

Moldova declared a state of emergency last month after Gazprom cut supplies to the eastern European nation by a third following the expiry of a long-term contract and demanded Moldova pay more than double the previous price to keep gas flowing.

People briefed on negotiations told the Financial Times that Gazprom had pushed for political concessions from Moldova’s new pro-EU government in exchange for cheaper gas. Gazprom denied this and said that the talks were “exclusively on commercial terms”. The two sides signed a new long-term supply contract on Friday but a copy of the agreement seen by the FT suggests Moldova made geopolitical concessions.

Pawel Majewski, chief executive of PGNiG, said the episode should serve as a wake-up call to Europe, which gets 35 per cent of its gas from Gazprom, and warned that Gazprom’s newly completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will carry gas from Russia to Germany and is awaiting approval from Berlin to start operating, would make Europe more vulnerable.

“This situation [in Moldova] is symbolic because it shows clearly what Europe, which is putting its gas infrastructure to a large extent in Russian hands, could have to face,” he told the FT.

“This is proof of what we have been saying for many months: that unfortunately the interests of the main gas supplier from the east are enforced hard. Gazprom is not a friend of the EU.”

Before Gazprom’s new deal with Moldova, PGNiG struck an agreement to provide almost 2m cubic metres of gas to the country, the first time that the former Soviet state wedged between Ukraine and Romania has received gas from a non-Russian source.

Majewski conceded that the deal was only a fraction of Moldova’s annual gas consumption of about 1bn cubic metres but indicated that PGNiG would be prepared to supply more if needed in future. “We were ready to help and still will be available to do so should additional gas volumes be needed.”

As well as the stand-off with Moldova, Gazprom has come under fire for restricting gas supplies to western Europe to only those covered by long-term contracts this year, while draining its storage facilities in the continent to unusually low levels ahead of the winter.

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Critics contend these moves have exacerbated an energy crisis. Gazprom has repeatedly denied such claims and Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that it was “complete rubbish” to claim that the Kremlin used gas supplies as a political weapon.

However, countries in central Europe remain deeply distrustful, and Poland has fought a long battle against the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that it will increase the EU’s dependence on Moscow.

Germany’s economy ministry said last month that allowing Nord Stream 2 to start supplying gas to Europe would not endanger Germany’s or the EU’s energy security. The ministry’s analysis is likely to pave the way for the pipeline to receive certification from Germany’s Federal Network Agency.

Majewski said Poland had submitted 600 pages of information to Germany’s economy ministry stating its concerns about Nord Stream 2 and was “extremely surprised” that the ministry had reviewed this in fewer than four working days and still given its blessing to the pipeline.

He added that PGNiG was prepared to take legal action to protect its interests if needed. “We are waiting for a decision of the Federal Network Agency, and as a party we will contest all decisions which don’t meet European legal standards,” Majewski said. “We are also a participant in this market and we want to be treated equally, and we will use all legal paths available to enforce our rights.”

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