Naftogaz, the largest natural gas company in Ukraine, filed a complaint with the EU competition watchdog against Russia’s Gazprom on Wednesday (22 December).
The Ukrainian company accuses Gazprom of abusing its dominant position in the European gas market.
“Gazprom has sharply reduced its delivery of natural gas to the European spot market, despite growing market demand,” Naftogaz CEO Yuriy Vitrenko said in a statement.
According to the complaint Gazprom has stopped selling gas through its electronic platform and is also blocking sales from other private suppliers.
“[Gazprom] is preventing other companies from supplying additional gas to Europe and competing with Gazprom. This is one of the key causes of the crisis contributing to record-high gas prices in Europe,” Vitrenko said.
Gazprom has also declined using Ukrainian pipeline capacity to supply larger volumes, despite a 50 percent discount offer by Kyiv.
Naftogaz has now called on the commission to order Gazprom to increase its gas sales.
Responding to the letter of Naftogaz, a spokesperson for the commission has said it would assess the complaint under its standard procedures but did not go into further detail.
European gas prices hit a record high of €181 per megawatt-hour on Tuesday when a pipeline through Belarus bringing in Russian gas to Germany switched part of its flow east, adding to supply fears.
Moscow said that its domestic market is a higher priority right now due to freezing temperatures.
But Naftogaz alleges Gazprom used its market power to force through Nord Stream 2 – the pipeline directly connecting Germany and Russia – at the cost of Ukraine’s gas operator.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied this on Tuesday and said, “there is absolutely no connection [with Nord Stream 2]. This is a purely commercial situation.”
High gas prices in Europe have caused ships carrying liquefied natural gas destined for China to change course to the Atlantic, but these are unlikely to solve storage issues in the bloc.
France, Italy, Spain, Poland all have regulations ensuring gas storage facilities are well-filled at the beginning of the winter.
But the Netherlands, Germany and Austria do not, and now have lower than usual storage levels, making them more dependent on gas imports.
Nuclear outages in France added to the energy concerns in Europe this week. Due to maintenance, about one-third of France’s nuclear capacity will be suspended in January, forcing the government – which generally exports electricity to adjacent countries – to import gas.
And with Germany planning to close three of its six last remaining nuclear power plants before the end of the year, gas deliveries from Russia look even more crucial in the coming winter months.
When pressed to respond to the gas crunch, EU commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager told press on Tuesday the EU needs to accelerate investments in renewables.
“We need to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels. And that includes gas. The faster we get to renewables, the less exposed we are to price spikes coming from imported fossil fuels,”
She also said the commission had asked major energy companies, including Gazprom, “if there is foul play in the energy market.” She did not go into further details.
Biden threatens US blacklisting of Putin
US president Joe Biden said Tuesday “Yes, I would see that” when asked by reporters if the US would blacklist Russian president Valdimir Putin if he invaded Ukraine. It would be the “largest invasion since World War Two” and would “change the world”, Biden said. The UK and US were also “in discussions” on disconnecting Russia from the Swift international payments system, British prime minister Boris Johnson also said Tuesday.
Planned change to Kenya’s forest act threatens vital habitats, say activists | Global development
Environmentalists are deeply concerned by the Kenyan government’s move to allow boundary changes to protected forests, watering down the powers of conservation authorities.
The forest conservation and management (amendment) bill 2021 seeks to delete clause 34(2) from the 2016 act, which makes it mandatory for authorities to veto anyone trying to alter forest boundaries. The same clause protects forests from actions that put rare, threatened or endangered species at risk.
Tabled by the National Assembly’s procedure committee, the amendment would weaken the role of Kenya Forest Service, mandated to protect all public forests, allowing politicians to decide who can change forest boundaries.
In an election year, many have read the proposal, due to be debated at the end of the month, as politically motivated.
The committee’s memorandum to MPs said current laws “unnecessarily limit the rights of any Kenyan to petition parliament” as provided for in the constitution.
But conservationists have said this would be a serious setback for the country, which was seeking to increase forest cover to 10% of land by 2022, up from 7.4%. Forest authorities said the move puts endangered species at risk, as well as clearing the way for unscrupulous individuals to encroach into forests that, according to a 2014 government paper, have been shrinking at a rate of 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) annually.
“I am astounded any right-thinking person would consider submitting or supporting such an amendment,” said Paula Kahumbu, chief executive at WildlifeDirect, a conservation NGO. “It will open the door to forest destruction after decades of hard work by agencies, communities and NGOs to increase forest cover, as committed to in our constitution. One can only read mischief in such a motion, with elections around the corner.”
Kahumbu added: “At risk are indigenous forests and the biodiversity therein, the integrity of our water towers, generation of hydropower and productivity of our farms. The environmental experts of Kenya and the conservation community call on all citizens of Kenya to reach out to their MPs to wholeheartedly and aggressively reject this heinous bill.”
She said the amendment would destroy the legacy of Wangari Maathai, the late environmentalist and Nobel Peace prize winner, who was once attacked and seriously wounded as she led a tree-planting exercise in Nairobi’s Karura Forest.
In a tweet, Christian Lambrechts, executive director at Rhino Ark said: “Considering what Kenya has lost in the past, any change that weakens, rather than strengthens the mechanisms to protect our forests, is ill-advised.”
Rhino Ark has been spearheading an initiative to put up electric fences around Kenya’s public forests to hamper poachers and illegal incursions.
Dickson Kaelo, head of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association, said the move by parliament is intended to “give legitimacy” to those who would destroy Kenya’s biodiversity.
“This is a well-calculated move to open the doors for forest excisions and allocation to private persons for development, and may even be a means to normalise current excisions. It is a threat to our forests coming at a time when we have a low forest coverage and a high risk of climate crisis-induced vulnerabilities. We call upon parliament to reject the amendment,” said Kaelo.
Protecting forests from developers has been a daunting task in Kenya.
Last July, Joannah Stutchbury, a prominent environmental activist, was killed near her home in Nairobi after her protracted opposition to attempts by powerful businessmen to build on Kiambu forest near the capital, Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has yet to fulfil a promise to catch her killers.
EU court set to rule on Hungary, Poland rule-of-law challenge
The European Court of Justice will rule on 16 February on the legality of the new mechanism linking EU funds to respect for the rule of law, which was challenged by Poland and Hungary last year. The tool has been threatened against Budapest and Warsaw where governments oversaw a decline in EU democratic standards. The court’s adviser ruled last month that their challenges should be rejected.
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