Austria Announces Emergency Measures, Follows Germany as Apprehension Grows Regarding Russian Gas Supply

Austria Announces Emergency Measures, Follows Germany as Apprehension Grows Regarding Russian Gas Supply
Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer at a news conference in Vienna, on Feb. 16, 2022. (Lisa Leutner/AP Photo)
Naveen Athrappully

The Austrian government and E-Control—the country’s regulatory agency for gas and electricity—have announced a stage one alert with regard to the supply of natural gas as European countries rejected Moscow’s push for gas to be paid in rubles.

Austria’s gas emergency plan has three levels. The first level is triggered if there are reliable indications that gas supplies could deteriorate while the second is activated when the gas supply actually deteriorates. In this scenario, the government will encourage industries to use alternative sources of power.

The third level gets triggered when gas can no longer be supplied and current market demand cannot be met. In addition to encouraging the industry to adopt alternatives, the government will likely enact other energy control measures at this stage.

“We will do everything to ensure the gas supply for Austria's households and businesses. Deliveries are currently arriving reliably and without restrictions. That can of course change. The early warning stage ensures that the monitoring of the supply situation is intensified in order to be prepared in the event of changes and to be able to react quickly,” Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a March 30 press release by E-Control.

The reason for sounding the warning is due to “Russia's announcement that future gas deliveries will only be paid for in rubles,” the regulator said.

As the early warning stage has been activated, surveillance and monitoring of the gas situation has tightened. E-Control and the Austrian Gas Grid Management will deliver daily reports to the federal government and the climate protection ministry on the matter.

Gas deliveries from Russia to Austria have not been disrupted and are continuing without restrictions, E-Control stated. The country’s gas storage tanks are currently only 13 percent full, which the regulator claims corresponds to the average of recent years.

If there is a total failure in securing Russian gas supplies, stages in the emergency plan may be skipped, the regulator added.

Though Austria is looking for alternative suppliers, the country’s dependence on Russian gas supplies is so high that it cannot be reduced overnight, “not even from one year to the next,” Wolfgang Urbantschitsch, Chairman of the Austrian energy regulator E-Control has said, according to Euractiv.

The Austrian industry has also expressed opposition to the European Union’s plan to cut down Russian gas imports by two-thirds in 2023. Russia accounts for 80 percent of Austria’s gas imports.

Earlier, Germany had triggered the first stage of its three-stage gas supply emergency plan. Russia accounted for 55 percent of Germany’s gas imports last year.

Germany’s actions followed Putin’s announcement that “unfriendly” nations should buy Russian gas in rubles. Russia had previously designated the EU, including Germany, as “unfriendly” due to the bloc’s sanctions on Moscow imposed in retaliation to the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.

Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke by phone on March 30 to discuss the issue. The Russian president reportedly reassured Scholz that payments for Russian energy could continue to be made in Euros.

The money would be transferred to Gazprom bank, which would then convert it into rubles. “Scholz did not agree to this procedure in the conversation, but asked for written information to better understand the procedure,” said a German spokesperson.
However, Putin announced on March 31 that he has signed a decree mandating “unfriendly” nations pay rubles for Russian gas. If payment is not made in rubles, contracts will be stopped, including existing ones, the president said. According to the new system, buyers will have to open ruble accounts in Russian banks. This will allow them to buy Russian gas from April 1.