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Russian Gas Returns to Romania amid Regulatory Changes

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New regulations slated to come into force this year could increase Russia’s energy influence in Romania, a country which for years was considered one of the least dependent countries on Russian gas imports, the Business Review writes. 

After 2013, Romania’s gas imports from Russia rapidly declined, reaching a decades-low of 163,000 tep in 2015. During this period, it was mainly considered that the country’s own resources are covering most of its domestic demand. But imports rose again in 2016. In 2017, imports of natural gas from Russia declined by 19 percent to 962,000 tep, from 1.19 million tep in 2016, but the trend changed direction again last year, the website reports. 

In 2018, the indicator soared by 26.8 percent to 1.2 million tons of oil equivalent (toe), the highest level since 2012, in sharp contrast with the trend seen during the previous years. Romania’s sole source of imported gas is Russian giant Gazprom, through two intermediary companies. The reversal in 2018 may indicate a rising reliance on Russian gas – and put at risk one of Romania’s biggest assets, Business Review writes.

In 2016, Romania ranked 26th among the 28 European Union member states in terms of energy dependency, with energy imports covering only 22.3 percent of national consumption. The energy dependency of the EU stood at 53.6 percent in 2016.

Running out of revenue sources, the government imposed special taxes of 2 percent of turnover on energy firms at the beginning of this year, and capped the retail and corporate gas price at RON 68/Mwh ($16.19/Mwh). These measures were introduced through the controversial emergency ordinance 114/2018, which players say caused major upheaval in the energy market.

“When the government representative presented us with the draft ordinance, my first reaction was: my God, you’re selling us to the Russians! Because this was like a door wide open to Russian gas,” a source from the energy market told BR.

In effect, the two major gas producers in Romania – Romgaz and OMV Petrom – are being forced to sell gas at capped prices and pay extra taxes, while there is no regulation governing imported gas – meaning that such a measure hits local producers and favors gas imports from Russia.

And the effect was soon evident: in January, Romania increased its reliance on Russian gas, as imports from Gazprom jumped, and at much higher prices, official data show.

According to the Romanian energy regulator (ANRE), gas imports from Russia rose by 55 percent in the first month of the year compared to January 2018, to 4.2 million MWh, while the average price shot up by 37 percent to RON 124.1 per MWh. Romania’s reliance on Russian gas imports climbed this year as 23 percent of total gas consumption was covered by Gazprom, compared to 18.6 percent in January 2018. 

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Court in Gibraltar Extends Iranian Tanker’s Detention for 30 Days

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A court in Gibraltar has extended the detention of an Iranian oil tanker for 30 days, AFP reported, citing Gibraltar’s attorney general. According to the agency, the order authorising the detention of the tanker can be extended for up to 90 days.

“We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the territory’s parliament, as quoted by AFP.

On 4 July, the supertanker Grace 1 was detained off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicions of it carrying oil to Syria for refinement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt discussed the issue earlier this week, with Mr Zarif urging London to release the tanker. He also stressed that Tehran would continue its oil exports under any circumstances. Mr Hunt, for his part, said that the Grace 1 would be released once Iran gives guarantees about its destination.

The tanker’s four crew members were freed on bail earlier this month after being questioned.

The situation in the Gulf has remained tense since the US tightened the sanctions it reimposed on the Iranian oil sector after quitting the 2015 nuclear deal.

A series of incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, took place in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. Washington has blamed the attacks on Tehran, but the latter has denied all the accusations.

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Russia in Confidential Consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 Crash

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Russia is having confidential consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 flight that was downed over Donbass in July 2014, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Friday.

“Such consultations are underway, but we agreed that the process will have a confidential character,” the diplomat said.

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Links Between Russia and EU’s Right-Wing Parties Cause for Concern, Says Merkel

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Relations between Moscow and EU’s right-wing political parties are a cause for concern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during a press conference in Berlin.

“Some questions arise here,” she stated. “We have constantly monitored the very strong support that right-leaning parties have received from Russia in one way or the other.” “This is a cause for concern,” Merkel stressed.

The German chancellor also mentioned the scandal regarding the alleged financing of Italy’s Lega party by Russia, noting that the Italian side must investigate the allegations in detail.

Milan’s prosecution launched a case based on the publications on the US BuzzFeed website and in the Italian L’Espresso weekly news magazine shedding light on the alleged financing Lega was receiving from Russia, qualifying the case as international corruption.

The main suspect in the case is one of the associates of Italy’s Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, head of th-e Lombardy-Russia Association Gianluca Savoini. According to the prosecution, his voice can be heard on the BuzzFeed published audio recording of an alleged conversation with Russian entrepreneurs with ties to the Kremlin, during which a possible oil supply contract was discussed. The party could have received the deal dividends amounting to $65 mln.

Both Salvini and Savoini have denied the allegations.

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