In another sign of the fragility of Europe’s dependence on Russian energy, the state pipeline operator said on Tuesday that oil had stopped flowing on the southern leg of the main link to Russia. ‘Eastern Europe.
Transneft, which controls the Russian section of the pipeline, said its July payment to the pipeline’s Ukrainian operator, Ukrtransnafta, had been returned. Transneft blamed problems with European sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
In response, Ukraine halted oil deliveries to Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic through the pipeline, according to Transneft. The three countries have been exempted from a European Union decision to ban imports of Russian oil from this year.
Ukrtransnafta had no immediate comment.
Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic sit at the southern end of the Cold War-era pipeline – called Druzhba, the Russian word for friendship. All three rely heavily on Russia to meet their energy needs and had lobbied their European partners to exempt oil delivered by pipeline from a Russian import ban passed by Brussels in late May.
Germany, which is at the northern end of the pipeline and also continued to receive oil from Russia, was unaffected by the outage, Transneft said.
Since invading Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has shown he is ready to use his control of the energy tap as leverage over Europe. He has also demonstrated his knack for unbalancing opponents by sending mixed signals and trying to pit Western allies against each other.
In the spring, Russia cut off natural gas deliveries to several European countries, starting with Bulgaria and Poland, then to Finland. In June, the day the leaders of France, Germany and Italy traveled to Kyiv, those countries reported a shortfall in Russian gas supplies, as did Austria and the Czech Republic.
Flows via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany, the main European consumer of Russian gas, were reduced by 60% and then by 80%. Moscow blamed the disruption on a component of the pipeline that was being refurbished by a German firm at a factory in Canada, sparking tension between Ottawa and Berlin.