Ukrainian gas crisis bypasses Switzerland

Russian gas is no longer available to the Ukrainians Keystone

Swiss gas suppliers say they are not concerned by the ongoing conflict over natural gas prices between Russia and Ukraine and believe supply is not under threat.

This content was published on January 2, 2006 - 18:29

Unlike many European countries, Switzerland did not report a fall in deliveries after Russian supplier Gazprom cut off shipments to Ukraine on Sunday.

Gazprom turned the tap off after Kiev and Moscow failed to negotiate an agreement on new gas prices by January 1. The Ukrainians refuse to pay four times more than what they have in the past for natural gas.

While the Russians say that they only want Ukraine to pay market prices for their gas, Kiev - which relies heavily on Russia for its energy needs - claims it cannot afford to shell out the sums demanded by Gazprom.

The whole affair also allegedly has a strong political undercurrent. Many observers believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to make his Ukrainian neighbours pay for their pro-Western stance and increase his influence in Kiev.

A number of European countries said gas supplies were down on Monday after Russian deliveries to Ukraine were halted.

Central European countries rely heavily on Russia for gas and there was a knock-on effect in Western Europe, which gets 25 per cent of its gas from Russia - 80 per cent of it via pipelines passing through Ukraine.

Most is destined for Germany with some going to France, Italy and Austria. While these countries have stocks to last a few months, some of them said that deliveries fell by up to a third on Monday.

The Russians have accused the Ukrainians of siphoning off gas destined for these countries.

No drop

The Swiss gas industry has not reported any problems of its own. Deliveries remained at their usual level on Monday, with specialists saying that Switzerland was not dependent on Russia and could fulfil its needs with other suppliers.

"Our sources of natural gas are highly diversified," said Hajo Leutenegger, president of the Swiss gas industry association. "Besides Russia, there are suppliers working in countries such as the Netherlands."

The gas industry sees the current crisis as a political affair rather than a business conflict, pointing out that it is not the first time that Russia and Ukraine have tussled.

Eric Defago, the head of Gaznat, one of Switzerland's main gas suppliers, told Swiss television on Sunday that it was in the interests of both countries to resolve their dispute.

"For Russia, gas supply is a very important source of currency revenues," he said. "As for Ukraine, this country does not want to arouse the indignation of its European neighbours."

The European Union's executive Commission has expressed concern about the dispute and called a meeting of member states' energy experts on Wednesday.

Germany, the EU's largest economy, warned Russia that its decision could also harm economic relations with Moscow.

Consumers are not likely to be affected by the crisis. Swiss gas industry spokesman Olivier Matile said that prices were fixed by long-term contracts and there was no reason for them to increase for the time being.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland does not produce natural gas.
The Swissgas consortium imports around 75% of the country's gas needs, while three regional companies provide the rest.
Distribution is carried out by around 100 local gas companies.
Natural gas covers approximately 12% of the country's energy requirements.

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In brief

According to the Federal Energy Office, 51.9% of the natural gas imported in Switzerland came from Germany in 2004, 22.6% from the Netherlands, 10.5% from France, 9.5% from Russia and 5.5% from Italy.

The actual percentage of Russian gas is difficult to estimate.

Germany, for example, imports 80% of its requirements and 41% of those imports come from Russia.

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