BERLIN, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Russia has cut oil supplies to Germany by as much as one-third in recent weeks, worrying energy security experts the move is part of an overall energy strategy change in Moscow.
The drop in Russian oil deliveries was first reported in Friday’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. The Munich-based newspaper quoted an official from a German refinery who said oil deliveries via the Druzhba oil pipeline network dropped significantly. The refinery, based in Schwedt, near the Polish border, was able to operate on full capacity, but only by relying on domestic and North Sea oil. Owned by BP, Shell, Agip and Total, Schwedt turns over some 10 million tons of crude oil a year, or roughly 10 percent of the German refining capacities.
Refinery spokesman Karl-Heinz Schwellnus said talks have ensued with suppliers over the bottleneck in supplies but refused to go into further details.
While the supply shortage is not dramatic, it at least is cause for concern: Constructed by the Soviet Union in 1964, the Druzhba pipeline is not only the world’s longest oil pipeline, but also the largest principal artery for the transportation of Russian and Kazakh oil across Europe. Druzhba is especially important for Germany’s energy security, as more than one-fifth of Germany’s entire oil supply is pumped through the network.
The name "Druzhba" means "friendship,” alluding to the fact that the pipeline was intended to supply oil to the energy-hungry Western regions of the Soviet Union, to its "socialist allies" in the former Soviet bloc, and to Europe. The pipeline starts in the Samara Region and divides into two branches: The southern branch pumps crude via Ukraine, while the northern branch passes through Belarus and Poland to end in Germany, which gets nearly one-third of its oil from Russia, a country that has in the past raised eyebrows because of its recent energy strategy decisions.
The recent shortage comes only eight months after Russia deliberately shut off supply through the Druzhba pipeline in a price row with Belarus. This and similar oil and gas price rows with Ukraine have caused politicians in Europe to express concern over Russia’s role as a reliable supplier and call for alternate energy security strategies.
Russia has in the past pointed to an excellent record of secure supply that went smoothly even in times of the Cold War.
On Friday, the operator of the Druzhba pipeline, state-owned oil transporter company Transneft, said the recent decline was the fault of private companies that had undersupplied Transneft recently.
"The decrease was not due to Transneft," Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoryev said, according to Russian agency RIA Novosti. Rather, Russia's largest independent oil producer Lukoil "undersupplied by about one-third, while a number of small companies stopped supplying crude to Germany."
Lukoil has so far not commented.
And there are observers who say that if Transneft isn’t responsible for the supply bottleneck, then at least it is not unhappy about it.
Russia has been unhappy with the Druzhba pipeline for a while, mainly because it runs through transit countries that charge fees.
“They are looking for alternative routes,” a representative of a German oil company who did not want to be named told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.
After all, the Europeans may not be the only ones who adjust their energy security strategy.
Transneft is weighing an alternative pipeline that runs from Unetscha to Primorsk, a Baltic Sea port, from where the crude is then to be exported via container ships. A feasibility study is under way on the new pipeline, which would have a capacity of roughly 50 million tons a year.
Such a pipeline does not have to, but could be a threat to Europe's energy security: It would not only make Russia more independent from transit countries like Ukraine and Poland, but also from importers like Germany.