By Jake Horton & Daniele Palumbo

A key Russian gas pipeline is to close at the end of August for three days, further reducing supplies as European countries struggle with high energy prices.

Western countries are trying to cut the amount of Russian oil and gas they import following the invasion of Ukraine in February.

Amount of Russian gas used by Europe

Russia supplied the EU with 40% of its natural gas last year.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was the largest importer in 2020, followed by Italy.

In 2021, the UK imported 4% of its needs from Russia, and in June this year, imported no Russian gas for the third month in a row.

The US doesn’t import any gas from Russia.

However, they are affected when Russia restricts supplies to mainland Europe, as this causes global gas prices to rise.

PIX: Russia’s gas exports

Russian energy provider Gazprom says it will shut the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany from 31 August to 2 September for maintenance, further impacting supplies.

It is also burning off an unusually large amount of gas from a plant near the start of the pipeline, although it is not clear why.

Sanctions placed on Russian gas

The EU says it will cut gas imports from Russia by two-thirds within a year, but has stopped short of a total ban.

To help reach its goal, member states have agreed to cut gas usage by 15% over the next seven months.

However, there’s doubt over where the EU will find alternative supplies, and may need to ship in liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tankers from producers like the US and Qatar.

However, energy advisor Kate Dourian says that “there aren’t enough LNG terminals in Europe. This will be a problem for Germany, particularly.”

Russia’s response

President Vladimir Putin has demanded that “unfriendly” nations in Europe pay for gas in Russian roubles. This helps support the value of Russia’s currency.

Poland, Bulgaria and Finland refused to do so and Russia cut off their supplies.

Several European energy companies are paying for gas via Russian bank accounts, which convert euros into roubles. They insist those payments are in line with sanctions.

Possible oil shortage

The EU has agreed to ban all Russian oil imports which come in by sea by the end of this year.

It will allow oil to continue to be imported by pipeline, as a “temporary measure” because countries like Hungary and Slovakia depend on it.

The US has declared a complete ban on Russian oil imports, and the volume of oil imports by the UK has fallen sharply in the last year.

Some European nations could have their oil supplies squeezed by the ban.

Lithuania and Finland got about 80% of their oil from Russia in November last year, the latest data available.

PIX: European countries importing Russian oil

However, EU countries can buy oil from other producers.

The IEA – a club of oil importing countries – has released 120m barrels-worth of crude from their stocks, and President Biden ordered a major release of oil from America’s reserves.

“Nations like Saudi Arabia might start putting more oil onto the world market later in the year, and there could be more supplies from the US,” says Kate Dourian.

Will sanctions work?

Helped by soaring energy prices, Russia received an estimated €400bn ($430bn, £341bn) over the past year from oil and gas exports to Europe.

The EU says its latest sanctions could cut the amount of oil it buys from Russia by 90%. However, this will take months to come into full effect, and even then Russia will be able to sell oil elsewhere in the world.

India and China have both been buying more Russian crude in recent months because its price has dropped.

Heating and fuel bills

Consumers are facing rising energy and fuel bills as sanctions on Russian energy kick in.

Heating prices are likely to increase even further if Russian gas exports to Europe are restricted.

In the UK, household energy bills have been kept in check by an energy price cap.

But bills rose £700 to about £2,000 in April when the cap was increased.

They will hit more than £3,500 for a typical household from 1 October when the cap goes up again.

UK petrol and diesel prices have also soared, and the government has announced a cut in fuel duty as motorists struggle with record prices.

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