May 12, 2022

Ukraine cuts off Russian gas hub and risks supplying Europe as war in the east continues

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine on Wednesday closed a pipeline that carries Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, while a Kremlin-based official in a southern region seized by Russian troops said the region would ask Moscow to annex it.

Discussions of annexation to Kherson – and Russia’s apparent willingness to consider such a request – have raised the possibility that the Kremlin is looking to sever another piece of Ukraine as it tries to salvage an invasion that went wrong. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014.

LOOK: As Ukraine regains territory near Kharkiv, Russia prepares for wider war

“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-installed Kherson regional administration, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti. He said regional officials wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a “full-fledged region” of Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be up to “the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that any move to annex territory should be carefully assessed by experts for s ensure that its legal basis is “absolutely clear.”

Russia has repeatedly used annexation or recognition of breakaway republics as a tactic in recent years to win chunks of former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after holding a referendum on the peninsula on whether it wanted to be part of Russia.

Kherson, a Black Sea port of about 300,000 people, provides access to fresh water for neighboring Crimea and is seen as a gateway to wider Russian control over southern Ukraine. It was captured at the start of the war, becoming the first major city in Ukraine to fall.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak scoffed at the idea of ​​its annexation, tweeting: “Invaders can ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson no matter what puns they play.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian pipeline operator said it was stopping the flow of Russian gas through a compressor station in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because enemy forces were interfering. with the operation of the station and siphoning the gas.

The hub handles about a third of Russian gas transiting through Ukraine to Western Europe. But the immediate effect of the cut will likely be limited, analysts say, in part because much of the gas may be redirected through another pipeline from Russia that runs through Ukraine.

Preliminary flow data suggested this was already happening, although Russian giant Gazprom said the amount of gas flowing to Europe via Ukraine was down 25% from the previous day.

However, Europe also receives natural gas from other pipelines and other countries.

“We are losing a few percent of the overall European gas supply, if we also consider imports and domestic production,” said Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analysis at the market information company. HERE. “So it’s not a huge cut in gas supply” for Europe.

Yet European gas futures have swung into the news, meaning consumers could face higher energy bills at a time when prices are already rising.
The cut highlights the wider risk to war gas supplies and is of symbolic importance as the first time Ukraine has disrupted the westward flow.

“Yesterday’s decision is a small preview of what could happen if gas facilities are hit by live fire and risk extended downtime,” said gas analyst Zongqiang Luo of Rystad Energy.

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

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 poses a more complicated problem, given both the quantities consumed by Europe and the technical difficulties in finding suppliers elsewhere.

It was unclear whether Russia would take an immediate hit, as it has long-term contracts and other means of transporting the gas.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian rocket attack targeted an area around Zaporizhzhia, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The southeastern city has been a haven for civilians fleeing the Russian siege in the devastated port city of Mariupol.

Russian troops continued to shell the steel plant which is the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, its defenders said. The Azov regiment said on social media on Wednesday that Russian forces had carried out 38 airstrikes in the past 24 hours on the grounds of the Azovstal steelworks.

The factory, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, housed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a months-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials have said some may still be trapped there.

In his address on Tuesday evening, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted that the Ukrainian military was gradually moving Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city and a key to the Russian offensive in Donbass, the eastern industrial region. which, according to the Kremlin, is its main objective. .

Zelenskyy said his troops chased Russian forces from four villages near Kharkiv in the northeast of the country.

Ukraine is also targeting Russian air defenses and supply ships on Snake Island in the Black Sea in a bid to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to expand its control over the coastline, according to the UK Defense Ministry.

The ministry said Russian supply ships have had minimal protection since the Russian Navy withdrew to Crimea following the sinking of its Black Sea Fleet flagship.

Separately, Ukraine said it shot down a cruise missile targeting the Black Sea port city of Odessa on Wednesday.

The gas cut came as Western powers sought to increase economic pressure on Moscow and bolster Ukraine’s defenders. The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Senate approval seemed certain.

Yet there are growing fears that the fighting in Ukraine could remain a source of continental and global instability for months, if not years.

US and NATO officials have expressed concern that Russia could dig into a protracted conflict as the war enters its third month with few signs of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight. .

The alliance is also waiting to see if Sweden and Finland, two of Russia’s neighbors, announce their intention to join NATO, a move the Kremlin would view as an affront.

Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London and AP global staff contributed.