TurboAttack of Gazprom: How it threatens Europe and Ukraine

On the possible resuscitation of Nord Stream-2 and the Kremlin's multi-crisis scenarios

by Denys Vinskyi, Mykhailo Gonchar, Centre for Global Studies Strategy XXI

 

Russia has reduced gas supplies through the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Initially from 167 million cubic meters per day up to 100, and then up to 67 mcm. The official reason is that the British Industrial Turbine Company (UK) Limited, which overhauled the turbine of the gas pumping unit (GPU) of the Portovaya compressor station (CS), cannot return it from repair in Canada due to the sanctions regime. This company is a subsidiary of another British company Siemens Energy Industrial Turbomachinery Limited, which in turn is part of the Siemens Energy Sector in the conglomerate of German Siemens AG. How Britain and Canada are involved become clear given the fact that the Germans bought the Rolls-Royce Energy turbine business from the United Kingdom in 2014. Indeed, the British company specializes in repairing turbines  using its capacity in Canada. But the point is not in the corporate division of labor of the Siemens conglomerate, but in the Russian manipulations, which can be traced to a far-reaching scenario.

 

Some technical details

At the Portovaya CS, which is the basic and the only one for the Nord Stream, eight GPU are operated. Of them, six GPU with capacity of 52 MW each with the SGT-A65 gas turbines and two GPU with capacity of 27 MW with the SGT-A35 gas turbines, manufactured by Siemens. Let's turn to the official documents of Gazprom. According to Section 18.7.4 “Guidelines for Determining GPU’s Parameters” (рус. «Указания по определению параметров ГПА») of the internal corporate standard “Gazprom STO 2-3.5-051-2006,” reserve/backup units must be provided at the compressor station.

In addition, according to Gazprom's standards, it is necessary to ensure uniform operation of the GPU resource. To do this, the automated control system of the CS provides an appropriate algorithm. When one of the working units is stopped for scheduled work, a backup unit is immediately turned on. And so in turn. This ensures uniform operation of the resource of all GPUs –  both working and reserve.

Based on the technical documentation of the Portovaya CS, the scheme of its operation provides for six working GPUs + 1 reserve unit. But in this case, the role of reserve unit is performed by two GPUs of lower capacity with the turbine SGT-A35. The satellite image of the Portovaya CS shows the location of the GPU with the SGT-A65 turbine in yellow, and the location of the GPU with the SGT-A35 turbine in red. Two backup turbines allow smoother regulation of the CS’ operation.  

 

Overhaul of the turbine is performed only at the manufacturer's premises. Therefore, another turbine is needed to hand over the turbine for repair and to provide a reserve for the GPU in case of an unforeseen accident of one of the working units. In practice, this is done by storing a spare turbine directly on the CS. As a rule, a separate building is provided for this purpose, or it is attached to the production block.

Based on the life of the turbines, the order of their repair is established. The turbine with the used resource is dismantled, and in its place the one which was stored on CS is mounted. The dismantled turbine is sent for overhaul, and upon return is mounted instead of the next, which requires overhaul. And so in turn. The last turbine is returned from repair and sent for storage at the CS. This provides overhaul of turbines without reducing the volume of gas supply through the CS. All this is enshrined in internal standards and guidelines.

Given the above, Gazprom's announcement of June 14, 2022 about the reduction in gas supplies to Nord Stream looks more than strange. For some reason, only three of the eight GPUs work at the CS. Gazprom did not specify which GPU remained in work. The number of turbines under repair is also not announced. But according to Gazprom’s own regulations, only one turbine can be repaired, because otherwise the reserve of GPU will not be provided for the CS. Siemens also reports only one turbine that has not been returned from repair, which is fully compliant with the regulations.

No expert will believe that four Siemens turbines fail at the same time. No accident or fire or missile attack on the CS by NATO forces was observed during the Baltops-2022 exercise. There were also no reports from the FSB of the detention of Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian or Finnish saboteurs in the area of ​​Portovaya Bay. Thus, according to Gazprom's reports and actions, a certain scenario can be traced. German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck rightly remarked: "I have the impression that this is a political decision, not a solution that can be technically justified."

 

Nord Stream 2: An Attempt at Resuscitation?

It is most likely that we have another use of gas supplies and pipelines as a hybrid weapon of the Kremlin to blackmail the EU, which has started discussions on a gas embargo under a possible 7th package of sanctions. Given the Kremlin's military logic, not Gazprom's commercial logic, it is logical to assume that the next step will be to shut down the Nord Stream gas pipeline to carry out ‘planned maintenance work.’ This has already been announced on TurkStream from 21 to 28 June. It is noteworthy that at the auction of June 20, 2022, Gazprom did not reserve additional capacity to transport its gas through Ukraine's GTS. This automatically causes further price escalation and additional pressure on the European Commission.

Indeed, Nord Stream traditionally stops in July. Last year it was July 13-23, this year it is tentatively planned for July 11-21, but it is possible that it may be different.

It should be noted that the in-tube diagnostics is performed once a year during the shutdown of the pipeline. This is done by the famous ROSEN Germany GmbH from Lingen, headquartered in Switzerland. Given that the diagnostic device is launched on the Russian coast and excavated in Germany in Greifswald with further processing of the data obtained in Germany, it is likely that Gazprom may find ‘technical problems’ in its territorial waters or on coastal area with external control of the pipeline. And then Rostechnadzor will traditionally ban the use of Nord Stream for a while to eliminate the ‘identified problems.’ Gas prices in Europe will jump even more, which is again in the Kremlin's favor both commercially, as it sells less and gets more, and politically –  a preemptive blow to the EU's intentions to include a gas embargo in the 7th package of sanctions.

Given the need to meet its obligations to European customers, Gazprom will pathetically declare a "rescue option" – the Nord Stream 2. Exactly the same gas pipeline can successfully replace the wrecking ‘twin brother’ on the same route. Existing alternatives are deliberately not considered. They say that Poland has refused to import Russian gas, so the Yamal-Europe pipeline cannot be involved, and Ukraine is blocking the transit of Russian gas through the Soyuz gas pipeline under a contrived pretext of force majeure at the Novopskov СS. Gazprom refused to increase transportation through Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhhorod pipeline even earlier, and there was no(accidental) accident at the Urengoy field. The last year scenario is repeated when in August with the accident at the Novo-Urengoy gas purification complex, which formally masked the ‘drainage’ of the EU gas market by Gazprom.

According to the Kremlin's logic, there is only one option left – the Nord Stream 2. Germany and the European Commission will agree to this option, as there is a threat of disruption of gas filling in the underground storage for next winter 2022-2023. Rosagitprop is already relishing the hopelessness of the situation for the EU, focusing on the serious accident that occurred in the United States at the Freeport LNG natural gas liquefaction facility, which exports LNG to Europe. There is also a surge in spot prices at European hubs. If in May and mid-June gas prices remained mainly in the range of 80-100 euros per megawatt-hour, in a few days prices jumped to more than 120 euros / MWh (124.1 on the TTF hub on June 17 or 1361.8 USD per 1000 cubic meters).

Russia's deputy prime minister is ‘predicting’ Europeans to have difficult gas years ahead, pushing them to make ‘unpopular decisions’ and abandoning the gas embargo. Another Putin’s ‘prophet,’ Russia's envoy to the EU, promises a ‘catastrophe for Germany’ if Nord Stream stops, of course, because of ‘counterproductive Western sanctions against Russia.’ It is not a question of ‘piano in the bushes’ in the form of the Nord Stream 2. But it is quite clear what they are leading to. If, under the pressure of circumstances, the German government agrees to launch NS2, then later, after "troubleshooting" NS1, it will work. In this case, Gazprom will stop transporting gas through Ukraine, despite the threat of an arbitration lawsuit by Naftogaz.

 

Multi-crisis scenario

The fact that the events are another Russian gas war against Europe is not hidden by Russian experts, who traditionally speak from pro-Russian positions. The EU is afraid of gas prices in winter from $2,000 to $3,500 for 1000 cubic meters against the current more than $ 1,300.

Behind the Kremlin's new gas ‘turbo attack’ are not only intentions to revive the Nord Stream 2 with the help of artificial crisis, but also to introduce additional turbulence in a weak-minded Europe tired of foreign war, finally ‘to Orbanize’ Macron and quarrel Scholz with Habeck and Baerbock contributing to the government crisis in Germany, as well as to prevent the decision in the EU on the 7th package of sanctions with a gas embargo. But not only.

A more far-reaching plan is seen behind this - a multi-crisis scenario. In addition to the food crisis in Africa, Russia wants to inflate the scenario of ‘cold winter’ in Europe, which did not work last winter.

As the United States and NATO are weak-minded about the military unblocking of the Black Sea, the Kremlin believes that Germany and the EU will be just as weak-minded on the gas front. Moreover, the Kremlin's ‘ruble ultimatum’ worked, albeit not in full. This gives Kremlin confidence that it should continue to raise rates and blackmail. And over time, as the fall approaches and the US congressional elections, when Washington is out of Europe and Ukraine, the issue of lifting EU sanctions can be raised, just as it is in the context of Russia's readiness to help overcome the food crisis subject to the revision of the sanctions regime.

To make it more convincing, the Kremlin may instruct Gazprom to stop transporting gas through Ukraine under one pretext or another. As the events with the transit of Kazakh oil through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline show, the Kremlin lacks imagination in inventing an artificial drive. Moldova will soon be the target of a gas attack (disconnection from gas supplies) in the context of EU candidate status.

To chaos the West further, ‘technical incidents’ may ‘suddenly’ occur on transatlantic fiber-optic lines between Europe and North America. The activity of the Main Directorate of Deep-Sea Research of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation at great depths in the North Atlantic has been repeatedly noticed in recent years. The commander of the British Armed Forces, Admiral Tony Radakin, like his predecessor, Chief Air Marshal Stuart Peach, a few years ago, drew attention to Russia's threatening underwater activity in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

Neither the Kremlin nor Gazprom is sure whether the multi-crisis scenario will succeed, but the algorithm of those who are malicious for the energy security of the EU and Ukraine is already being seen. Bluffing, sounding, disguise – all these methods from the arsenal of the FSB since the KGB and the NKVD times are already in action, we will soon see how blackmail and provocation work.

 



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