Prague braces for worst-case scenario as Moscow cuts gas to Poland and Bulgaria

Russia’s decision to suspend gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria has raised concerns about the consequences of a cut in deliveries to this country. Prime Minister Petr Fiala said that while there were no immediate signals that Czechia was at risk of a gas supply shutdown, the country must be prepared for a worst-case scenario.  

Poland and Bulgaria have become the first countries to have their gas supplies cut off by Russia for failing to pay for gas in roubles, raising speculation about Moscow’s plans as regards other European importers.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said in response to the news that Russia’s decision to cut deliveries was a breach of contracts, emphasizing that the Czech Republic must end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels as soon as possible. However, this will not be easy given that the country’s dependence on Russian gas imports – which at 98 percent – is the highest in Europe.

The Czech Republic currently has approximately one month’s worth of gas reserves, and according to Jiří Gavor, director of the Association of Independent Energy Suppliers, it is completely dependent on the decision of its business partners, major West European companies that supply the German markets:

“If they unanimously reject the proposed payment method as Poland did and this part of Central Europe is without Russian gas, then our situation will be very difficult.

Jiří Gavor | Photo: Šárka Ševčíková,  Czech Radio

“The reservoirs are half-empty, at less than 30 per cent, and it will take a really long time to get alternative sources of gas. Sooner or later it would inevitably mean regulating consumption.”

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, Prime Minister Fiala said the government was taking steps to ensure sufficient gas for Czech households and businesses, but refused to reveal any further details.

The daily Hospodářské noviny on Wednesday reported that the Ministry of Industry and Trade was engaged in talks with Norway on possible gas deliveries.

While gas trade, including pipelines, has been entirely privatised in the Czech Republic, the ministry has already sent its deputy for energy René Neděla to negotiate with the Norwegian state exporter Equinor.

The negotiations have been confirmed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade as well as by several gas traders, including one of the country’s biggest distributors, Pražská plynárenská.

At the moment, gas flows to the Czech Republic via the Ukrainian and German routes, both of which are dependent on Russian gas.

According Mirek Toplánek, head of the Association for District Heating in the Czech Republic, gas from other sources could theoretically flow to the Czech Republic via a pipeline from Germany. However, he says, Germany would first have to cover its own demand.

The former prime minister added that the Czech Republic could not rely on gas sources from southern Europe either, as Italy itself would face a gas shortage and the LNG terminal in Croatia’s Krk, was not enough to cover Croatia’s and Slovenia’s own consumption.

At the moment, the Czech Republic depends on Russian gas imports for approximately 98 percent of its consumption. By contrast, Poland’s dependence is only 31 percent and Germany’s dependence stands at 21 percent.