Ukraine’s natural gas transmission system operator (TSO) warned Tuesday of potential damage to one of the transit routes for moving Russian natural gas to Europe after reportedly detecting an unannounced change in pressure by Gazprom PJSC.

Gazprom map

Gas TSO of Ukraine reported a sharp increase in pressure on the Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod (UPU) pipeline section on the border of Ukraine and Russia. The change came without notice from Gazprom, according to the TSO. CEO Sergiy Makogon said the pressure change could cause major damage unless there is coordination between each party.

“Such uncoordinated actions of Gazprom cause concern,” Makogon said. He noted there are existing agreements between the operators that stipulate what information should be provided. 

“Such a step looks especially dangerous for Europe, after Gazprom again reduced transit” to 33 million cubic meters/day through Nord Stream 1, or just 20% of the system’s capacity.

The UPU, aka the Trans-Siberian Pipeline, is one of the main routes to transport Russian gas to Western Europe. It is partially owned and operated by Ukraine. The line moves supply from the Siberian Urengoy gas field to the border town of Uzhhorod in western Ukraine, where it is distributed.

Disruption As Strategy

European officials and analysts were speculating as to whether the pressure change was a continuation of Russia’s strategy to use natural gas as a weapon.

Rice University’s Anna Mikulska, a nonresident fellow in energy studies at the Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the reported pressure change fits Russia’s long-running pattern to cause disruption, even if it does not damage Ukraine’s infrastructure.

“Gazprom and Russia, they like disruption,” Mikulska told NGI. “When disruption happens, that’s when prices go up all over Europe. That means not only does the European market become more destabilized and the economy will suffer, but Russia gets more money for its gas exports even if the nominations are much smaller than before.”

The strategy to find ways to curb gas deliveries or cause an otherwise “negative influence” on the transmission systems was a go-to strategy for Russia long before its February invasion of Ukraine, Mikulsa said.

The issues also could create additional difficulties for Europe to meet its gas storage goals before next winter, Mikulska added.

The warning by the TSO came one day after Gazprom said it would further restrict capacity on  Nord Stream 1 (NS1). Gazprom said delays in maintenance on turbine engines required flows to be limited by Wednesday to 20% of capacity.

Germany’s Federal Network Agency, which regulates the nation’s gas market, reported Monday any prolonged cuts in gas flows on NS1 impede its goal of filling storage levels to 95% by November without additional measures. 

Representatives for one of Germany’s largest utilities, Uniper SE, told Reuters Tuesday that gas flows from Russia have fallen to a third of nominated volumes.

European gas and electricity markets have been on tenterhooks for weeks in anticipation of an extended outage of NS1 following scheduled maintenance. The September Title Transfer Facility contract for liquefied natural gas to Europe rose more than $5 to finish Tuesday above $59/MMBtu.