WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Russian natural gas deliveries to Poland have dropped by almost a quarter this week, the country's gas monopoly said Wednesday, forcing it to stop supplying gas on to Ukraine.
The reason for the drop was unclear, with Russian energy company Gazprom denying any fall in exports. Some commentators believe it to be retaliation by Moscow against Poland for its decision to help Ukraine with gas.
Neighboring Germany's energy company E.On also said it registered small reductions in deliveries of Russian gas, but not enough to affect its supply situation.
The gas in question arrives to Poland and other European countries through pipelines that cross Ukraine and Belarus. Though Russia has cut off gas to Ukraine, it allows gas to transit through its pipelines to customers in the rest of Europe, such as Poland.
To Moscow's dislike, Poland and other European countries have this year started selling some of the Russian gas on to Ukraine, to help it through its standoff with Russia. Moscow is angry with the Ukrainian government's attempt to quash a rebellion of pro-Russian separatists in the east. Poland and the rest of the EU support the Ukrainian government.
Poland's gas company said that the supplies it received on Monday were 20 percent below the contracted amounts. On Tuesday they were 24 percent too low. It is making up for the shortfall with gas from other European markets.
In Moscow, Sergei Kupriyanov, spokesman for Russian supplier Gazprom, issued a statement denying any drop in gas exports to Poland. He said Gazprom is shipping the same amount of gas — 23 million cubic meters a day — as before.
Malgorzata Polkowska, the spokeswoman for Poland's pipeline operator Gaz-System S.A., said the company was obliged to temporarily halt deliveries to Ukraine for technical reasons due to the smaller amounts of gas it was receiving. She did not specify when the supplies — some 4 million cubic meters a day — could be resumed.
Some commentators said the reductions may be in response to Poland's decision to sell some of the gas to Ukraine.
"If Russia can break the deliveries from the West, Ukraine may not get through the winter," George Zachmann, an analyst with the Breugel think tank in Brussels, told the Polish PAP agency. "I think this might be the motive behind the reduction in gas deliveries to Poland."
But energy expert Andrzej Szczesniak says a 20 percent drop in deliveries is not unusual, if temporary, and does not risk having serious consequences for Poland. He says the situation more likely exposes poor communication between Gazprom and PGNiG.
Other countries that receive Russian gas through Ukraine or Belarus, including Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Lithuania, did not immediately report similar drops in supplies.
Last year, Poland bought some 8.9 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, covering about 60 percent of its needs. Poland meets another 30 percent of its demand with gas it produces itself, and the remainder comes from other European countries, mainly Germany and the Czech Republic. Poland also has some 2.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas stored in gas tanks.
Nataliya Vasilyeva and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Karel Janicek in Prague, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Liudas Dapkus in Vilnius and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.