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A cold wind is blowing from Kiev and Moscow, but compared to the past, the Czech Republic is less afraid of a gas crisis. Slovakia is in a worse state

A European solution is sought to address the potential blackouts should Russia close down its supplies as in 2006 and 2009

The cold season is approaching and in Central Europe the spectre of a possible black-out in energy supplies is on the horizon, such as in the previous Ukrainian-Russian conflicts that affected the region in 2006 and 2009. We have already seen a couple of signs, with a reduction of 10-40% in the flow of gas to a number of countries, such as Poland and Slovakia. However, there are some who sleep peacefully. It is the Czech Republic, that over the years, and due to the Russian oil and gas vicissitudes of the past, has focused on the diversification of its energy supplies at home and on various sources of gas and oil supplies.

Thus, if Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, and partly Slovakia, are afraid of the potential consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Prague has announced that “it will not be affected and there won’t be limitations for Czech consumers and industries in the area. We will be able to guarantee gas supplies from our reserves, as well as from alternative sources, as for example, Nord Stream and Gazelle pipelines”, the Czech Industry minister, Jan Mládek, has assured the population in a statement. However, the minister has also admitted that “we are not in a position to completely exclude a scenario like the one that took place in 2009. We must be ready for winter, because the situation in Ukraine is dramatically serious”. Czech reserves amount to 92% of the 3.2 billion cubic meters of gas. The Industry minister asked though, as a precautionary measure, that EU inspectors be sent to Ukraine to check the Country’s gas reserves. A lack of gas reserves in the coming months could create a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, with the risk of involving nine other European countries south of Slovakia, Mládek explained.
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Moscow closed its gas supplies to Kiev in June, asking for $ 385 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, and many countries in the area are afraid that Ukraine may draw on supplies that cross over its territory, that are intended for Western countries, as it did in a similar situations in the past. To prevent the crisis from becoming a reality, the European Union and the various governments of the area are trying to find a solution in order to anticipate and at least solve part of the problem: to supply gas to Ukraine from its own reserves. The go ahead was given on 2 September by Slovakia, that started supplying gas to Kiev from the secondary Eustream gas pipeline. The decision was “painful” especially because Bratislava is afraid of retaliations from Russia, regarding both supplies and its contract. In actual fact, Ukraine will receive about 10 billion cubic meters of Russian gas purchased beforehand by Slovakia in this case, that will reach about 17 with the contribution of Poland. Even Prague has stated it was willing to participate. However, the EU solution does not entirely solve the Ukraine issue. Through these “second-hand” supplies, Kiev would obtain from around a third to half of its winter requirements. Thus the only hypothesis is for it to draw gas directly from the Russian supplies destined to Western Europe in order to bridge the gap and face the coming winter.

The former Czechoslovakian countries will be facing the winter with two distinctly different moods. On the one hand, Bratislava – that is among the countries to have been hardest hit by the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in recent years – which is trying to fill its reserves of gas to the brim and playing its cards on the nuclear front with Enel, which has decided to sell its majority stake in Slovenské Elektrárne. A hard blow to a strategic sector which, with its foreign investments, Slovakia expected to renew and increase, and that has now undergone an abrupt halt. The latest proposal is a repurchase, together with the Czech partner Čez, of the Enel shares.

On the other side there is Prague, that since the nineties – when Moscow had not yet learned to implement its energy blackmail strategy – started implementing the diversification of its energy supply sources, which is now ensuring a certain amount of tranquillity. In the last few years, except for the Russian oil crisis of 2008, when output in the Družba gas pipeline decreased significantly, (according to Moscow for technical reasons, but certainly related to the United States shield project at the time), the Czech Republic has remained almost untouched by the other gas crises, which left half of Europe in the cold.

The mix of energy sources that are safeguarding Prague consist of nuclear power (Temelín and Dukovany), which provides 30% of the national energy requirements, as well as investments in alternative pipelines to the Russian one, in first place, that of the Nord Stream, the Opal and the IKL oil pipeline, that is exactly an alternative to the Družba one. In particular, in terms of nuclear power, Prague has decided to increase its nuclear energy production with the addition of two new blocks in the existing power stations and is also considering the possibility of building a plant for the production of nuclear fuel rods, in order to strengthen its energy independence from Russia in this sector. Finally, a fundamental role was played by state-control of the major players in the energy landscape of this Country, with Čez in first position, which also made possible the implementation of expensive projects and the privatization of the Transgas network, which now belongs to the German RWE company.

by Daniela Mogavero