Ukraine cuts Russia gas at key hub, underlining risk to supply

The cutoff marks the first time Ukraine has disrupted the flow of Russian gas westward.

By Associated Press

Ukraine stopped the flow of Russian natural gas Wednesday through one of the hubs that feed Western European homes and industry.

Ukraine’s natural gas pipeline operator said it would stop Russian shipments through a hub in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because of interference from enemy forces, including the apparent siphoning off of gas.

The Novopskov compressor station in the separatist Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine handles about one-third of Russian gas passing through Ukraine to Western Europe. But the immediate effect of the cutoff is likely to be limited since much of the gas can be directed through another pipeline, gas analyst Zongqiang Luo at Rystad Energy said.

Preliminary flow data suggested that was already happening, though Russia’s state-owned giant Gazprom indicated the amount of gas flowing to Europe through Ukraine was down 25 percent from the day before.

European gas futures seesawed on the news, meaning consumers may face higher energy bills at a time of already rising prices.

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The cutoff highlights the broader risk to gas supplies in the war and holds symbolic significance as the first time Ukraine has disrupted the flow westward.

“Yesterday’s decision is a small preview of what might happen if gas installations are hit by live fire and face the risk of extended downtimes,” Luo said.

He added that the interruption would also make it harder for European countries to refill underground storage for next winter and would “hasten Europe’s plans to move away from imports of Russian gas.”

The European Union has sought to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, phasing out its use of coal and considering doing the same for oil. Gas presents a more complicated problem, given both how much Europe uses and the technical difficulties in finding suppliers elsewhere.

It was not clear if Russia would take any immediate hit, since it has long-term contracts and other ways of transporting gas.

The gas cutoff came as Western powers have been looking to ratchet up economic pressure on Moscow and bolster Ukraine’s defenders. The U.S. House approved a $40 billion Ukraine aid package Tuesday. Senate approval appeared certain.

Still, there is growing fear that the fighting in Ukraine may remain a source of continental and global instability for months or even years.

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U.S. officials and NATO have expressed concern that Russia may be digging in for a protracted conflict as the war grinds into its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight.

The alliance is also waiting to see whether Sweden and Finland, two neighbors of Russia, announce plans to join NATO, a move the Kremlin would see as an affront.