With gas prices rising at a record pace, EU leaders are pointing the finger of blame at the Kremlin.

That refuses to open the gas tap any further, causing Europe to get into trouble.

The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline plays in the background.

Is Russia to blame?

This article is from the Volkskrant.

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1. What is Russia's role in the energy crisis?

When energy prices are high, Europeans are quick to look to their main gas supplier: Russia.

The dependence on Russian gas was already high and has grown in recent years, partly due to the shutdown of gas production in Groningen and the closure of nuclear power stations in Germany.

More than a third of the gas in the EU comes from Russia.

According to several European politicians and governments, Russia is now abusing that position of power.

The Kremlin would not increase gas exports to intentionally get European countries into trouble.

"We are very grateful that Norway is ramping up production, but this does not seem to be the case in Russia," European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen sneered on Tuesday.

The Commission has launched an investigation into complaints from Eastern European member states about possible market manipulation by Gazprom, the largest gas company owned by the Kremlin.

Some member states suspect that Gazprom is pushing up gas prices to force accelerated approval to commission Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany, and is throttling Eastern Europe off Russian gas.

The Polish climate minister spoke of "clear signs of market manipulation" by Russia on Wednesday.

2. Are the European accusations against Russia justified?

President Putin says Gazprom is delivering as agreed.

This is confirmed by major European gas companies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also says that Russia is honoring its contractual obligations.

But Europe wants Russia to send more gas.

And Russia is reluctant to do that.

On Wednesday, Putin first hinted that help is on the way.

"Let's think carefully about a possible increase in supply in the market," Putin said.

"We just have to do it carefully."

Meanwhile, his government is suggesting a way for Europe itself to do something about rising energy prices.

"Of course, certification and rapid deployment of Nord Stream 2 would help calm the situation," Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said on Wednesday.

The Kremlin wants to pump gas through Nord Stream 2 as soon as possible to end Western attempts to block the project.

The gas pipeline has been criticized within the EU for increasing reliance on Russia and has been delayed for months by US sanctions.

Now the pipeline is finally ready at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but the opening could take months.

The German energy network regulator has until January to assess whether Nord Stream 2 complies with European legislation.

After that, the EU will also have another four months for the same assessment.

3. Does Russia need Nord Stream 2 to supply more gas to Europe?

No, there is sufficient space in the existing gas network between Russia and Europe.

There is more space available in the pipelines through Ukraine than the total capacity of Nord Stream 2. The pipelines through Poland can also accommodate more gas.

But at the auction for gas supplies in October, Russia reserved only a fraction of the free space.

Gazprom booked a third of the space offered in the pipelines through Poland.

In Ukraine, the company did not reserve any additional capacity.

Putin says Russia is already passing more gas through Ukraine this year than is contractually required, even though Russia actually prefers different pipelines.

According to Putin, the route via Ukraine is more expensive and more polluting than the new routes through the Baltic Sea.

The United States and Eastern European countries only see a geopolitical motive: with Nord Stream 2, Russia will have the opportunity to turn off the gas tap to Ukraine without customers in the EU being affected.

For example, Russia is gaining power in the conflict with Ukraine, where it annexed Crimea in 2014 and started a war in the east of the country.

A Gazprom employee inspects the metering equipment of a compressor station at the entry point of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

A Gazprom employee inspects the metering equipment of a compressor station at the entry point of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Photo: Peter Kovalev / TASS

4. Does Russia have enough gas to increase exports to Europe?

That is unclear.

Gazprom said it exported almost a record amount of gas to Europe this year.

But in September, the supply declined.

According to Russia, this is because more gas is needed in its own country than usual.

Gazprom is in the process of replenishing its own reserves in storage locations after a long and cold winter.

Gazprom says reserves will not be replenished until November.

At the same time, the heating season has started early in Russia.

In most Russian cities, the district heating switches on when the average temperature is below 8 degrees Celsius for five days in a row.

That happened weeks earlier this fall than in previous years.

In Moscow, like every year, the district heating is so high that people open their windows to cool down their homes.

It is not known how much gas is left for Europe.

Gazprom's chairman, Alexei Miller, recently pointed out that Asia still needs to be served.

Gazprom invests heavily in pipelines to China.

Two years ago, the company opened the Power of Siberia, a 55 billion euro pipeline that instantly made Russia much less dependent on European demand for gas.

5. What can Europe learn from this energy crisis according to Russia?

For Gazprom - and therefore for the Russian government - these are golden times.

The company benefits from the high market prices.

If Europe wants extra gas quickly, it will pay more for it than usual.

According to Putin, European citizens pay the bill through 'the smart ones in the European Commission'.

The EU has liberalized the gas market with the result that there is more trade in short-term contracts.

For citizens, this leads to lower prices when there is ample gas supply, but not when there is a shortage: then prices will rise in a short time, as they are now.

Putin has always been in favor of long-term contracts, so that European countries are tied to Russia for a long period of time.

He seizes the crisis with both hands to also criticize the green energy transition in the EU.

Putin spoke on Wednesday of "unbalanced decisions", "drastic steps" and "hysteria".

More attention should be paid to sustainable extraction of oil, gas and coal.

"The transition must be gradual."