Vladimir Milov, Russian opposition politician, associate of Alexei Navalny, and former Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia, calls on Europe to start an antitrust investigation against Gazprom which is, according to him, manipulating the market. He suggested this in an online discussion organised by the Friends of European Russia Forum and EU Neighbourhood East Forum. Milov also proposed that he and other participants of the discussion write a White paper about the current developments around Gazprom.
The Russian opposition member wonders why Europe is not speaking a lot about market manipulations on its gas market. “This really deserves an in-depth analysis and discussion on what is going on beyond just media headlines… This is a very clear-cut case for the books about how you detect market manipulation on top of the monopoly.” said Milov.
He gave some advice on how to deal with the current wrongdoing from Gazprom, which has been obviously denied. “First, the EU should compare their behaviour with previous decades. Russia has been supplying Europe for decades. And usually, they always release any need for additional volume. Whenever European consumers have been asking for it… But this year we saw a very abrupt change in behaviour. Gazprom has been saying no, we can only deliver the minimum contractual obligations, nothing more than that. We simply don’t have the gas. And in connection with that, they have not been booking additional transit capacities through Ukraine, Belarus and Poland with the same explanation that we cannot deliver extra volume because we don’t have the gas. Now, at the very same time… they kept reporting, for instance, about the record injection of gas into Russian underground storage facilities and the storage facilities in the former Soviet Union, which they control. So, the product figure is next to 75 billion cubic metres injected into Russian stores for this winter season, which is about a quarter higher than last winter… So, there is additional gas. There are about 15 billion cubic metres of extra gas which were injected into Russian stores. The explanation for this faction is extremely thin. They say, “Oh, we expect colder winter than usual.” This simply does not correspond to the reality on the ground or any meteorological forecasts. So, the answer is very simple. Yes, they do have the additional volumes of gas, but they prefer not to supply them to European consumers, not to inject them into European gas storage facilities but to store this gas in Russia.”
The politician pointed out that Gazprom has “accumulated very significant storage capacity which is used as a leverage to influence the market,” and in the past few weeks and months, the Russian company has been injecting gas much slower than the other owners of storage facilities in Europe. According to Milov, other storages “which are not controlled by Gazprom, are filled, more or less normal, compared to previous years in terms of volumes of gas injected before the winter season.” “So, while not replying to requests of European consumers for additional guest supplies, Gazprom has not been injecting sufficient volumes of gas into their own gas facilities in Europe. At the same time again, I will repeat they are reporting a record filling of gas storage in Russia, so yes, gas is there. If this is not the market manipulation, then I don’t know what it is,” said the former Deputy Minister of Energy of Russia. “I think this clearly corresponds to the provisions of the European antitrust legislation which speaks about withholding the goods and commodities for the purpose of bringing the price up. I believe that’s a very clear, proven case.”
According to him, the EU has to act now because such monopolistic behaviour is damaging to everyone, including Russia. Vladimir Milov said that the current situation with gas “would lead more people to think that we need to get rid of dependency of Russian supplies faster” and “Russia will simply lose markets with actions like that in the longer term.” He emphasised that now Gazprom is “quietly waiting in an ambush to actually eat you and to try to destroy a lot of positive infrastructure frameworks that have been built in Europe in the past 20 years.” The Russian opposition member wonders why Europe is not actively resolving the problem. “I’m really very much surprised about the inaction of the European Commission,” he said. “I heard that prominent people like Frank Timmermans and others are essentially flubbing this issue of market manipulation, openly saying that no, we don’t think that manipulation is involved. It’s probably a natural market occurrence that the prices went so high. I think this inaction and such words only encourage Gazprom… So I think action is needed. The antitrust investigation against Gazprom should be open tomorrow. And there is ample evidence that market manipulation was involved, for which they should be issued significant fines. And yesterday, I read the news that the European Commission is opening an antitrust case against Google with potential multibillion-dollar fines. But this is more dangerous. They should prioritise Gazprom over Google because we are into the Green Deal energy transition, but gas will still serve as important fuel before Europe builds out a full-blown green economy. Yes, supplies from Russia will play a significant part. It will have a lot of impact on the European economy. And Russia’s manipulation can have long-standing negative effects. So, I suggest that this case is to be opened right now.”