Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now

(Reuters) – Russia said its troops had abandoned a key bastion in occupied eastern Ukraine, a stinging defeat that prompted one of President Vladimir Putin’s most hawkish allies to call for Russia to consider resorting to low-grade nuclear weapons.

LYMAN

* Russia said its troops had withdrawn from Lyman to avoid being surrounded by Ukraine’s army.

* Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s region of Chechnya, said Moscow should consider using a low-yield nuclear weapon in Ukraine after a major new defeat on the battlefield – the loss of Lyman.

ANNEXATION

* Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday proclaimed the annexation of four regions in Ukraine, while Kyiv said it would continue its fight to retake occupied land.

* Before signing documents to annex the four regions – an act denounced as illegal by Ukraine, the United States, the European Union and the head of the United Nations – Putin delivered a 37-minute anti-Western diatribe.

* Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Friday the country was formally applying for fast-track membership of the NATO military alliance and that Kyiv was ready for talks with Moscow, but not while Putin was president.

* The United States responded on Friday to the annexations by imposing more sanctions on Russia, targeting hundreds of people and companies, including those in Russia’s military-industrial complex and lawmakers.

ZAPORIZHZHIA

* A Russian patrol has detained the director general of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the state-owned company in charge of the plant said, and the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Russia had confirmed the move.

CASUALTIES

* Ukraine’s SBU security service said at least 20 civilians were killed in the Russian shelling of a civilian convoy in late September in an eastern “grey zone” between Russian-controlled and Ukrainian-controlled territory.

* At least 30 civilians were killed and almost 100 wounded in what Kyiv said was a cynical Russian missile strike on Friday on a convoy of civilian cars in southern Ukraine.

GAS FLOWS

* Italy’s Eni said it would not receive any of the gas it had requested from Russia’s Gazprom for delivery on Saturday, but the firms said they were working to fix this.

* Greece and Bulgaria started commercial operation of a long-delayed gas pipeline which will help decrease southeast Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and boost energy security.

* Russia’s Gazprom cut natural gas supplies to Moldova on Saturday by around 30%, according to the director of gas firm Moldovagaz, Vadim Ceban.

DIPLOMACY

* Russia failed to win enough votes for re-election to the United Nation’s aviation agency’s governing council, in a boost for Western powers that wanted to hold Moscow accountable following its invasion of Ukraine.

(Compiled by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry)

Havana protests flare for second night as govt scrambles to turn on lights

By Dave Sherwood and Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA (Reuters) -Crews restored power to more neighborhoods across Havana on Saturday after a second night of protests over ongoing blackouts in Cuba’s capital, including some of the largest demonstrations since widespread anti-government rallies in July 2021.

At least one of the protests in the western seaside borough of Playa swelled in size to several hundred people who chanted “turn on the lights,” as well as slogans disparaging President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

At one point, the group began to chant for freedom, or “libertad,” in Spanish, as protesters marched through a dark, densely populated district that has been without electricity since Hurricane Ian slammed into the island on Tuesday.

Reports on social media also showed smaller demonstrations and residents banging pots and pans elsewhere in Havana late on Friday. Protests, which remained largely peaceful, appeared confined to those places where power had not yet been restored.

The majority of city residents, whose electricity supply had returned during the day, did not protest on Friday.

“Little by little the power is coming back, and good thing,” said Jorge Mario Gonzalez, a 57-year-old postal worker in Havana. He said the power came back on at his home on Friday.

“The government is making a big effort but can’t satisfy everyone. We have so many problems.”

Ian knocked out power to the whole country of 11 million people when it plowed through western Cuba earlier this week. By mid-day Friday, officials said electricity had been restored to more than 60% of customers in Havana, a city of more than 2 million, but those still in the dark had grown increasingly anxious.

“It’s like being in hell,” said Carlos Felipe Garcia, who marched shirtless at the protest in Playa on Friday night, covered in sweat. “That’s why we´re out on the street, and we’ll keep coming out.”

Officials said on Friday they hoped to have the lights back on across most of Havana by the end of the weekend. City officials have said the protests unleashed by the outages have hindered recovery efforts.

As the demonstration in Playa late on Friday gained steam, it was met by several truckloads of security forces in black berets, who blockaded the main boulevard, preventing those marching from advancing, according to a Reuters witness.

Later an equally large group of hundreds of government supporters chanting “I am Fidel” – a reference to the late former leader Fidel Castro – followed behind the protesters on an adjacent street. The men, many wearing jeans and T-shirts, were armed with sticks, baseball bats and scrapwood.

No clashes or arrests were observed.

Street protests in communist-run Cuba are very rare. On July 11, 2021, anti-government rallies rocked the island, the largest such demonstrations since Castro’s 1959 revolution.

INTERNET FAILS

Internet communications in Havana appeared to collapse again for the second night on Friday as protests flared, making mobile calls and messaging impossible until around 4 a.m. on Saturday.

“Internet has been cut again in Cuba, at around the same time as yesterday,” said Alp Toker, director of internet watchdog NetBlocks. “The timings provide another indication that the shutdowns are implemented as a measure to suppress coverage of the protests.”

The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment on the situation.

As the protesters marched in Playa, the electricity suddenly came back on in some housing and apartment blocks.

“When people protest, yes, they put on the lights,” said one local resident, Andres Mora, pointing to a recently lit building. “But our children’s food has already rotted and they don’t have anything to eat.”

The prolonged blackouts in Cuba are particularly upsetting for many residents because obtaining basic goods – including food, fuel and medicine – often means hours waiting in line under the hot Caribbean sun.

Outside Havana, vast swaths of the island were still in the dark as work crews continued to repair electric poles and lines and remove trees from roads.

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Mario Fuentes, Alexandre Meneghini and Nelson Gonzalez in Havana; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)

EU leaders to discuss infrastructure security after Nord Stream leaks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU leaders will discuss the security of their critical infrastructure next week, the head of the European Council said on Saturday, following damage to Nord Stream pipelines under the Baltic Sea that European leaders have described as sabotage.

“Sabotage of Nordstream pipelines is a threat to the EU. We are determined to secure our critical infrastructure. Leaders will address this at the upcoming summit in Prague,” Charles Michel, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, said in a tweet after talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

EU country leaders are scheduled to meet in the Czech capital on Oct. 7.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Banging pots, Cubans stage rare protests over Hurricane Ian blackouts

(This Sept 30 story corrects name of director of NetBlocks to Alp Toker in paragraph 22)

By Dave Sherwood

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans banged pots and shouted protests in neighborhoods of Havana still without electricity on Friday, three days after Hurricane Ian knocked out power to the island of 11 million people.

Sweating in the dark on Thursday night and early Friday, some Havana residents resorted to pot-banging, a traditional method of expressing discontent in Latin America but one previously rarely employed in Cuba.

Hurricane Ian, now plowing north along the southeast coast of the United States, on Tuesday brought Cuba’s grid to collapse, flattened homes and obliterated agricultural fields.

The government has worked on repairs since then, and electric service was back in half of the capital by Friday afternoon.

Jorge Luis Cruz of Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood stood shirtless in his doorway late on Thursday banging a pot and shouting in anger. Dozens of other people could be heard banging pots in the darkness from terraces and rooftops nearby.

“This isn’t working: Enough of this,” Cruz told Reuters. “All my food is rotten. Why? Because we don’t have electricity.”

Cruz said his family did not want him to take to the street out of fear he would be hauled off to jail.

“Let them take me,” he said.

Luis Antonio Torres, head of the country´s ruling Communist Party in Havana, told state-run TV that utility workers had made significant progress.

“Havana today has more than 50% of its grid recovered, and about 60% of customers have electricity,” Torres said.

By midday Friday, scattered protests continued in Havana, but largely limited to areas where electricity was not yet back.

“I believe that protesting is a right, but only when those responsible are not doing their jobs,” Torres said. “Yesterday´s protests, instead of helping, slowed down our mission.”

Street protests in communist-run Cuba are very rare. On July 11, 2021, anti-government rallies rocked the island, the largest such demonstrations since former Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Police arrested more than 1,000 people, according to estimates from human rights groups, and hundreds of protesters remain in jail, official figures show.

The Cuban government says those it jailed were fairly tried and found guilty of vandalism, assault and in some cases, sedition. Human rights groups, however, say people were subjected to sham trials and unfairly jailed for exercising their right to free speech and protest.

A Reuters journalist confirmed pot-banging and small groups protesting peacefully on the street in several other areas of the city on Thursday evening and Friday morning. In Vedado, a more upscale neighborhood, around 100 people gathered in front of a local Communist Party office late Thursday.

Two uniformed government officials emerged, one with a loudspeaker, to explain efforts to restore power, but the crowd quickly shouted them down.

Food, fuel and medicine shortages, acute even before the storm, left many Cubans wondering where to turn as many businesses remained closed following the storm and basic supplies were hard to come by.

Reports on social media also showed small protests throughout Havana and some elsewhere in the country on Friday. Outside Havana, many regions remained without power, particularly on the western half of the island, which took a direct hit from Ian.

INTERNET OUTAGE

As protests began on Thursday evening, internet communications, by cell phone and landline, went down for about seven hours, according to global monitoring firm NetBlocks.

“The internet blackout limited voices from the protests and may well have an element of intent given that there was no external factor registered at that moment that caused the outage,” Alp Toker, NetBlocks director, told Reuters.

“The incident is consistent with the pattern of disruptions we have tracked during previous periods of political unrest.”

The Cuban government did not reply to a request for comment on the outage. Internet service appeared to have returned to normal across most of the city on Friday.

But residents, frayed by tropical heat and abundant mosquitoes, remained on edge.

“We still don’t have light, and no one tells us why,” said Tiare Rodriguez, 54, a resident of Havana’s 10 de Octubre neighborhood. She had joined a small group that was banging pots and milling about the street, too hot to remain in her home.

“Our food is going to waste. Our children’s milk has been lost. Who will replace it?” she said. “No one.”

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood, Mario Fuentes, Nelson Acosta and Nelson Gonzalez in Havana; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Cynthia Osterman)

Flooding in western Venezuela kills at least eight

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities said they had recovered eight bodies on Friday after days of intense rains swelled rivers and unleashed flash floods, leaving at least three others missing.

The victims were among a group of ten people in the western state of Tachira who were swept away from an improvised camp where they were holding a religious gathering in the town of Lobatera, authorities said.

Four of the victims were minors, civil protection service officials for the western state of Tachira said on Instagram.

The other two members of the ten-person group remain missing, in addition to a 35-year-old farmer in nearby ​​San Jose de El Cobre who was driving his motorcycle when a river overflowed on Thursday. Authorities said they recovered the motorcycle.

Various areas through Venezuela’s western and central regions have been impacted by heavy rainfall for at least a week.

In the northwestern city of Barquisimeto, video showed roadways transformed into rivers as drivers navigated waters that partially submerged their vehicles.

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco; editing by Diane Craft)

Nord Stream gas ‘sabotage’: who’s being blamed and why?

By Joanna Plucinska

WARSAW (Reuters) – Major leaks that suddenly erupted in the Nord Stream gas pipelines that run from Russia to Europe under the Baltic Sea have generated plenty of theories but few clear answers about who or what caused the damage.

Here is what we know and what has been said so far:

WHO IS BEING BLAMED?

So far, Western governments and officials have avoided pointing a finger directly, while Russia has blamed the West.

European Union states say they believe the damage was caused by sabotage but have stopped short of naming anyone. Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, said it was “very obvious” who was behind it but did not say who that was.

The Kremlin said allegations of Russian responsibility were “stupid” and Russian officials have said Washington had a motive as it wants to sell more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday the United States and its allies blew up Nord Stream. “The sanctions were not enough for the Anglo-Saxons: they moved onto sabotage,” he said.

In previous comments, the White House has dismissed the accusation that it was responsible. U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday damage to Nord Stream was a deliberate act of sabotage.

GRAPHIC – Map: Leaks reported from Russian Nord Stream pipelines

https://graphics.reuters.com/UKRAINE-CRISIS/ENERGY/xmpjozoewvr/leakage-map.jpg

WHY SABOTAGE A PIPELINE?

German Navy Chief Jan Christian Kaack told German daily Die Welt in Monday’s edition, the day leaks were found although he was apparently speaking before that: “Russia has also built up considerable capacity underwater. At the bottom of the Baltic Sea, but also in the Atlantic, there is quite a bit of critical infrastructure like pipelines or submarine cables for IT.”

Alongside Nord Stream, a new pipeline has been built between gas producing Norway and Poland, which has been seeking to end its reliance on Russian energy, making the region highly sensitive for Europe’s energy security.

“(Russia) can intimidate Europeans through an act of sabotage. Because if they’re able to blow up these pipelines in the Baltic seabed, they could do that as well to the new pipeline,” said Kristine Berzina, senior fellow for security and defence at the German Marshall Fund.

However, if it was an act of sabotage, it has damaged pipelines that were built by Kremlin-controlled Gazprom and its European partners at a cost that ran into billions of dollars.

The damage also means Russia loses an element of leverage it still had over Europe, which has been racing to find other gas supplies for winter, even if the Nord Stream pipelines where not pumping gas when the leaks were discovered, analysts say.

Whoever or whatever is to blame, Ukraine may also be a beneficiary. Kyiv has long called for Europe to halt all purchases of Russian fuel – even though some gas still runs to Europe across its territory. Disrupting Nord Stream brings Kyiv’s call for a full Russian fuel embargo closer to reality.

HOW COULD NORD STREAM HAVE BEEN DAMAGED?

Experts say the scale of the damage and the fact that the leaks are far from each other on two different pipelines indicate that the act was intentional and well-orchestrated.

Seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they had registered two powerful blasts on Monday in the vicinity of the leaks and the explosions were in the water, not under the seabed.

A British defence source told Sky News the attack was probably premeditated and detonated from afar using underwater mines or other explosives.

“Something big caused those explosions which means … Russia could do it. In theory, the United States could also do it but I don’t really see the motivation there,” Oliver Alexander, an open source intelligence analyst, told Reuters.

The United States had long called for Europe to end its reliance on Russian gas, he said, but Washington had little obvious motivation to act now because Nord Stream was no longer pumping gas to Europe at the time the leaks were found, although the pipelines had gas under pressure inside them.

“They already succeeded in stopping Nord Stream 2. It was already dead in the water, it wasn’t going anywhere,” he said.

Analysts say it is possible the damage was inflicted by devices that are available on the commercial market but that given the scale and precision, it was more likely carried out by an actor with access to more sophisticated technology.

The U.S. news channel CNN, citing three sources, reported that European security officials had observed Russian navy support ships and submarines not far from the sites of the Nord Stream leaks. Asked about the report, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there had been a much larger NATO presence in the area.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

At Russia’s request, the U.N. Security Council meets on Friday to discuss the damage to the pipelines, while the Europeans are pressing on with their investigations.

For now, however, more direct fingerpointing between Russia and the West could worsen tensions that have already spiralled over the war in Ukraine, said Marek Swierczynski, a defence analyst for Polish think tank Polityka Insight.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus, with additional reporting by Sabine Seibold; Editing by Alexander Smith and Edmund Blair)

EU countries spar over gas price caps

By Kate Abnett, Gabriela Baczynska and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union countries disagreed on Friday about whether and how to cap runaway gas prices, with Germany among those opposing the measure that 15 other states said was needed to tackle Europe’s energy crunch.

Meeting in Brussels on Friday, ministers from the 27 EU member states approved levies on energy firms’ windfall profits to try to contain an energy price surge aggravated by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The agreement covers a levy on fossil fuel companies’ surplus profits made this year or next, another levy on excess revenues low-cost power producers make from soaring electricity costs, and a mandatory 5% cut in electricity use during peak price periods.

The Czech Republic said, however, that was not enough and that many EU countries expected a proposal from the bloc’s executive European Commission on capping the gas price.

Speaking after the meeting, the EU’s energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, said there was no agreement on what such a cap would look like.

“We will… try to negotiate a price corridor, not a fixed cap, that allows us to bring down the costs for our consumers,” she told a news conference.

“A wholesale gas price is a legitimate option, but it requires a radical intervention in the market,” she said, adding that several “non-negotiable conditions” would need to be put in place alongside such a cap for it to work.

Italy’s energy minister said a group of countries would discuss among themselves next week ideas for a cap or “smart indexing” to help the Commission draft a legal proposal that all countries could support.

“The priority right now is to slash the price of gas. But there is a second priority: to avoid that this kind of action leads to a shortage of gas,” Roberto Cingolani said.

Fifteen countries, including France, Italy and Poland, this week asked Brussels to propose a price cap on all wholesale gas transactions to contain inflation.

    German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said he believed EU ministers could find a “better solution” to a broad price cap ahead of their next meeting on Oct. 11.

“A fixed price cap on gas can only work if we answer the question of what happens if not enough gas comes to Europe… The only answer I hear is that then the amount would be divided up. I do not think that is politically possible,” he said.

‘STOP THIS INFIGHTING’

The Commission warned countries this week that a broad cap would require “significant financial resources” to finance emergency gas purchases should market prices break the EU’s cap.

Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands sided with Germany in opposing the idea, which they said could leave countries struggling to buy gas if they could not compete with buyers in price-competitive global markets.

Brussels suggested the EU could move ahead with a narrower price cap, for example by just capping Russian gas supplies, but countries including Belgium and Hungary were against. Another idea, akin to what Spain was already doing at home, was to target specifically gas used for power generation.

By introducing EU-wide measures Brussels hopes to overlay governments’ uneven national approaches to the energy crunch, which have seen richer EU countries far outspend poorer ones in handing out cash to ailing companies and consumers struggling with bills.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, set out a 200 billion euro package on Thursday to tackle soaring energy costs, including a gas price brake.

Claude Turmes, energy minister of Luxembourg, urged the EU to step in and stop an “insane” spending race between countries.

“That’s the next frontier, to get more solidarity and to stop this infighting,” Turmes said. ($1 = 1.0182 euros)

(Reporting by Kate Abnett and Gabriela Baczynska, Philip Blenkinsop, Bart Meijer, Marine Strauss, Alvise Armellini and John Chalmers; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Putin authorises Enel to sell Russian unit to Lukoil

(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on Friday authorising Italian utility Enel to sell a controlling stake in its Russian entity to Lukoil and the Gazprombank-Frezia investment fund.

The deal had been held up by Moscow’s counter-sanctions that prohibits Russian firms from closing some deals with foreign companies without Putin’s direct approval.

“Enel learned about the approval of the sale of its stake in Enel Russia to PJSC Lukoil and Gazprom-Frezia fund and informs that it will proceed with the transaction in the coming days,” a spokesman for the Italian group said.

The Italian utility announced in June it had reached a deal with Lukoil and Gazprombank-Frezia to sell its 56.43% stake in Enel Russia for around 137 million euros, to be paid at closing.

(Reporting by Reuters, additional reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Slovakia may stop power exports to EU without more help on energy costs

By Jan Lopatka

(Reuters) -Slovakia could halt electricity supplies to other European Union countries if it doesn’t get more help to cope with soaring energy costs, its prime minister warned on Friday, saying measures agreed by the bloc so far were not sufficient.

EU energy ministers agreed on Friday a package including a levy on fossil fuel companies’ surplus profits for this year or next, another levy on excess revenues low-cost power producers make from soaring electricity costs, and a mandatory 5% cut in electricity use during peak price periods.

But Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said his country would only collect about 115 million euros out of the EU’s estimated 140 billion euros from the new levies, a fraction of the 1.5 billion euros that would be proportional to its population of 5.5 million.

Heger complained that there was no agreement on EU-wide sharing of the revenue from the levies, although there was a provision for voluntarily doing this on a bilateral basis.

This is a problem for Slovakia, he said, as its main producer has pre-sold energy for the next year at prices much lower than current ones, while Slovak distributors and customers must now buy electricity at multiple times that price.

Although Slovakia is a slight net importer of electricity, Heger noted that foreign entities had purchased future delivery contracts from the country’s dominant nuclear power and hydro utility Slovenske Elektrarne – partially owned by Enel and Czech group EPH – at a fraction of current prices.

Slovakia will not raise enough revenue from the approved package, he said.

“We clearly said that if we want a solution that will be effective for the entire EU, it must be taxation of disproportionate profits on a pan-European level, which will then be redistributed to individual member countries according to the level of consumption,” Heger said.

A levy needs to be applied for electricity traders as well as producers, he said, a provision that is in the agreed EU package on Slovakia’s proposal but only as a voluntary option.

“If you do not help us financially, we do not want to allow (an economic) collapse, therefore we have a Plan B that electricity made in Slovakia will not go to countries that have bought it, but we will give it to our citizens, our companies.”

Under that plan, holders of the electricity purchase contracts would only be compensated to the tune of their original costs, he said.

As an alternative to “solidarity” redirection of the revenue from the energy sector levies elsewhere, the EU could free up unused funding from other European programmes for Slovakia to prevent it from taking unilateral action, Heger said.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Jason Neely, Mark Potter and Paul Simao)

EU to seek “price corridor” deals with trusted suppliers – EU energy chief

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission will seek to negotiate a “price corridor” with trusted natural gas suppliers, EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said on Friday, while acknowledging there was no consensus in the bloc on a potential gas price cap.

“We will proceed with that and try to negotiate a price corridor, not a fixed cap, that allows us to bring down the costs for our consumers,” she told a news conference after a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Gabriela Baczynska)

Four French refineries disrupted by fourth day of strikes

By Forrest Crellin and Rowena Edwards

PARIS (Reuters) -Strikes have disrupted TotalEnergies’ oil products refining and delivery for a fourth day, with four of its French plants hit by continuing industrial action by workers.

Deliveries at the 240,000 barrel per day (bpd) Gonfreville refinery in Normandy have stopped and it is in the process of being shut down, said CGT union delegate Thierry Defresne.

TotalEnergies and trade union CGT said that strikes were also underway at the La Mede, Feyzin and Flanders refineries.

The shutdowns will further strain the supply of refined products in France, with more 60% of refining capacity – or 740,000 bpd – now offline, Reuters calculations show.

A TotalEnergies spokesperson said there is no impending fuel shortage due to the strikes as the company has built up stocks and is importing regularly.

The company reported that there has been about a 30% increase in customers at their service stations since the start of the month when it began offering reduced fuel prices, and that resupplying has continued during the strikes.

“There is no need to rush to the station (for gas),” TotalEnergies said, adding that the fuel price reduction is effective until the end of the year.

However, France’s largest sugar maker Tereos on Thursday said it had to slow output slightly at some factories and TotalEnergies had said the strikes would prevent it from supplying diesel fuel until the end of the week.

“The objective of the strike is not disruption, but to obtain a negotiation on wage measures compensating for inflation,” CGT’s Defresne told Reuters.

It is possible the strikes will continue past Friday, he added.

The industrial action started on Tuesday and was initially planned to last 72 hours.

“It is the unplanned stuff that really gets prices moving, with diesel stocks having made no summer gains,” said OilX senior oil analyst Neil Crosby.

“The wave of strikes in France took the market by surprise and there is uncertainty about its duration.”

Two Exxon Mobil refineries have also faced walkouts and disruptions.

The refiner has been forced to limit product supply to its customers within the terms of its contracts, a company spokesperson told Reuters on Wednesday.

Its 240,000 bpd Port Jerome-Gravenchon oil refinery, the Notre Dame de Gravenchon petrochemicals site and the 140,000 bpd Fos-Sur-Mer refinery were shut down last week.

Outages in France’s refining sector are creating a level of uncertainty in refined oil trade amid a heavy oil refinery turnaround season in Europe this autumn.

(Reporting by Forrest Crellin in Paris and Rowena Edwards in London; Editing by David Goodman and Jonathan Oatis)

Al Shabaab fighters kill crew drilling well in southern Somalia

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) – Islamist militants from al Shabaab on Friday killed 12 people drilling a well in drought-ravaged southern Somalia, a local resident and official said.

Conflict between the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, which wants to implement a strict implementation of sharia, or Islamic law, and the central government has killed thousands of people since 2006.

Somali security forces say they have made gains on the battlefield in recent weeks while fighting alongside local self-defence groups, but al Shabaab has continued to conduct deadly raids.

The latest attack happened in the town of Gariley in the southern Gedo region when the militants attacked the crew at its work site, burning their bodies and drilling equipment, said Mahad Abdi, a local resident who visited the scene and counted the bodies.

The area is suffering from the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in 40 years, leading the United Nations to warn of a looming famine.

“I am very sorry that al Shabaab is causing such trouble for us while we are suffering from drought and lack of water in our area and we don’t want water 100 km away from us,” Abdi told Reuters.

Mahmoud Abdel Warsame, the mayor of Gariley, confirmed the death toll and said security forces also killed six al Shabaab fighters.

Al Shabaab has in recent weeks burned houses, destroyed wells and beheaded civilians in other parts of central and southern Somalia, residents say.

The attacks, and the group’s demands for tax payments despite the drought, have pushed some residents to take up arms against al Shabaab.

In a separate incident in the capital Mogadishu, al Shabaab fighters killed Mogadishu’s head of police, his two bodyguards and a police-based journalist, President Hassan sheikh Mohamud was reported as saying on Somali National News Agency.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alex Richardson)

E.ON’s Isar 2 reactor can run until March 2023 after one-week maintenance

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – E.ON’s Isar 2 nuclear power plant will go offline for a week’s maintenance from Oct. 21 in preparation for a life extension to March 2023, the company said, in line with Berlin’s plan to keep two of Germany’s last remaining reactors running a bit longer.

“After the restart, the plant can continue to operate with the existing reactor core until probably March 2023. The federal government will decide on whether to actually call up (Isar 2) by the beginning of December at the latest,” E.ON’s nuclear division PreussenElektra said in a statement.

(Reporting by Christoph Steitz, Editing by Miranda Murray)

Nord Stream 1 gas leak expected to continue until Sunday

(Reuters) – Gas leaks in the Baltic Sea due to ruptures on the Nord Stream pipeline are expected to continue until Sunday, Oct. 2, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing the pipeline operator, Nord Stream AG.

There was no information about when gas from the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was also affected by the still-unexplained ruptures earlier this week, would stop pouring into the sea.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Water utility Pennon expects power costs to almost double this year

(Reuters) -British water company Pennon Group on Friday forecast its annual power costs would almost double this year from the year before, as an energy crisis dents business and household budgets.

The company expects total power costs across the group to be around 106 million pounds ($118.3 million) for the current fiscal year, up from 56 million pounds reported last year.

Britain has been battling a sharp rise in energy costs, which have pushed the inflation rate to 9.9% in August. The government has said it will cap wholesale electricity and gas costs for businesses at less than half the market rate from October until the end of March.

The UK price surge is part of a Europe-wide power crunch sparked by a drop in gas supplies from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, which has left policymakers across the continent scrambling to respond.

The water utility plans to invest 160 million pounds in its goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2030 and of generating enough electricity to meet half of its own needs by the same date.

“Pennon’s drive towards 50% self-generation from renewable electricity should help to reduce volatility in the cost base going forward,” analysts at Hargreaves Lansdown said in a note.

Despite the rising costs and the volatile macro-economic environment, Pennon said its trading has been in line with its guidance.

The company now anticipates a deferred tax credit of around 120 million pounds after the government reversed its plans to increase corporate tax and scrapped the country’s top rate of income tax last week.

Pennon’s peer United Utilities earlier this week lowered its annual revenue forecast and said it expects a weaker half-year operating profit, weighed down by tepid consumption and higher costs.

Shares in Pennon, which in early trade hit their lowest in three years, were up 3.6% at 0949 GMT.

($1 = 0.8960 pounds)

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Uttaresh.V and Jan Harvey)

Norway grid operator says should not curb winter power exports

By Nora Buli

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s government should not restrict electricity exports as this could make it hard for the country to get the imports it may need this winter, grid operator Statnett said on Friday.

Statnett in May said that the electricity market in southern Norway would be “pressed” this winter, and in June Norway’s energy regulator NVE asked the grid operator to investigate future options for handling a very tight power situation.

Restricting exports, which the Norwegian government has said it may do to prevent blackouts, could lead to similar measures being imposed by other countries, limiting the ability to import power from abroad when needed, Statnett said.

“We do not recommend the introduction of export restrictions,” Statnett Chief Executive Hilde Tonne said while presenting other measures to ensure electricity supplies amid unusually low hydropower reservoir levels.

Hydropower accounts for more than 90% of Norwegian electricity production, but the driest 12-month period in 26 years in southern Norway has depleted reservoir levels to record lows and sent prices soaring.

Graphic: Hydro Reservoirs Southwestern Norway (NO2) https://graphics.reuters.com/NORWAY-POWER/byprjzkrmpe/chart.png

“We have said several times that we can get to a situation where we might be reliant on imports this winter,” Statnett’s head of system operations Peer Oestli said.

In its reports, Statnett proposed instead to continue encouraging producers in southern Norway to conserve water in reservoirs, which has already resulted in multi-year low production and net imports in some weeks.

Statnett is also in talks with industry in southern Norway over options to cut consumption if necessary, aiming for an agreement before Christmas, Oestli said.

The grid company also proposed a deal with Equinor for an option to run the Mongstad gas-fired electricity plant, which has been slated for decommissioning.

Statnett did not wish to provide an estimate of the financial costs for such deals with industry and Equinor.

The proposed measures are intended to remain in place until spring 2023, Tonne said.

(Reporting by Nora Buli; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Alexander Smith)

Britain turned net exporter of electricity in second quarter, report says

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain turned a net exporter of electricity to Europe in the second quarter for the first time in over a decade, a report by academics from Imperial College London for Drax Electric Insights showed.

From April to June, 8% of the electricity generated by Britain, around 5.5 terawatt-hours (TWh), was exported through subsea cables known as interconnectors.

The trade surplus was worth around 1.5 billion pounds for the UK economy, the report said.

The rise in exports follows a fall in French nuclear power output due to an unprecedented number of outages for maintenance and strikes.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Jason Neely)

Energy crisis sires new European order: a strong Italy and ailing Germany

By Francesca Landini and Christoph Steitz

MILAN/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – In the weeks after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italian energy major Eni, embarked on a whirlwind of trips to gas suppliers in Africa.

The visits included meetings with officials in Algeria in February plus talks in Angola, Egypt and Republic of Congo in March, with Descalzi often accompanied by senior Rome officials, according to company and government releases.

State-controlled Eni and Italy were able to leverage existing supply relationships with those nations to secure extra gas to replace a large part of the volumes it received from its top supplier Russia.

It’s a nimble shift that many European countries have been unable to perform as Vladimir Putin’s war jolts the continent into an alternate reality.

Take Germany. An economic powerhouse and long a byword for prudent planning, it has been caught wholly unprepared. It’s on the brink of recession, its industry is preparing for gas and power rationing and it has just nationalised a major utility.

Italy, a country familiar with economic crises, is looking comparatively resilient. It has secured additional supplies and is confident it will not need to ration gas, with its government hailing the nation as the “best in Europe” on energy security.

“The appreciation Descalzi enjoys in several African countries is for sure a competitive advantage,” said Alberto Clò, a former Italian industry minister and ex-board member at Eni, referring to the difficulties of signing deals during a supply crisis.

Indeed the two countries find themselves in contrasting circumstances as a severe energy crunch weighs unevenly across a continent where dependence on Russian gas varies widely.

Much of the region faces a winter supply crisis, with those heavily exposed including Germany, Hungary and Austria. Less-affected nations include France, Sweden and Britain, which haven’t traditionally relied on Russia, as well as Italy.

Martijn Murphy, an oil and gas specialist at research firm Wood Mackenzie, said although Italy had long counted Russia as its biggest gas provider, its greater diversity of suppliers and long-standing links with Africa meant it was better placed to withstand a cessation of Russian supply than many others.

“Eni has very strong ties with all the countries it operates with in north Africa and is present in all: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and in most of these countries it is the biggest upstream investor and international oil company producer.”

The power crunch caused by the war has forced governments to confront the risks of over-reliance on a dominant supplier or region. It bears echoes of the 1970s energy crisis that led to the West rethinking its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, a shift that spurred global exploration and a search for alternative suppliers such as Venezuela and Mexico.

The Italian government declined to comment. Germany’s economy ministry said it wanted to move away from Russian gas imports as quickly as possible and diversify its supplies, citing early steps towards that such as the leasing of five floating terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Germany currently has no LNG terminals, while Italy has three in operation and has recently bought another two.

A TALE OF TWO BUYERS

Italy consumed 29 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Russian gas last year, representing about 40% of its imports. It is gradually replacing around 10.5 bcm of that by increased imports from other countries starting from this winter, according to Eni.

Most of the extra gas will come from Algeria, which said on Sept. 21 it would increase total deliveries to Italy by nearly 20% to 25.2 bcm this year. This means it will become Italy’s top supplier, provide roughly 35% of imports; Russia’s share has meanwhile dropped to very low levels, Descalzi said this week.

    From the spring of 2023, an increasing flow of LNG will start to arrive from countries including Egypt, Qatar, Congo, Nigeria and Angola, allowing Italy to replace another 4 bcm of Russian gas, Eni said.

Germany, whose 58 bcm of imported Russian gas last year made up 58% of consumption, has seen supplies via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline been reduced since June and halted in August.

Unable to secure enough long-term replacement supplies from other countries, and lacking a national oil and gas major with production abroad, it has been forced to go to the spot, or cash, market where it has had to pay about eight times the prices seen a year ago for replacement gas.

Factors beyond human control can shape energy security: Germany does not enjoy Italy’s proximity to north Africa, for example, or Britain and Norway’s North Sea riches. It has no major oil or gas reserves.

Nonetheless German officials and executives have made miscalculations in recent years, notably after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, suggesting the current crisis could have turned out differently.

Back in 2006, it was Italy running fastest to Russian gas, with Eni – the country’s dominant gas importer – agreeing at that time the biggest-ever gas deal by a European firm with Moscow-controlled energy giant Gazprom.

But in the past eight years, the two countries have diverged: Germany has doubled down on Russian gas and became increasingly dependent while Italy has sought to hedge its bets.

Italy began charting a different course in 2014 when a new government replaced that of Silvio Berlusconi, who was a long-time friend of Putin, and Descalzi took the helm of Eni, according to three sources familiar with the country’s energy strategy.

Descalzi, an exploration and production specialist who had overseen projects in places such as Libya, Nigeria and Congo, focused on what he knew best, one source said: exploring Africa.

A major success came in Egypt in 2015, when Eni discovered the Mediterranean Sea’s biggest gas field Zohr. As Descalzi pushed Eni to fast-track projects, the source added, Eni was able to start production at the Zohr in less than two-and-a-half years, a comparatively quick development in the industry.

In Algeria, where Eni has been present since 1981, the company clinched a deal in 2019 to renew gas imports until 2027.

CROSSROADS AT CRIMEA

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the ensuing Western sanctions, was a watershed moment.

Rome withdrew its support for Gazprom’s $40 billion South Stream project – which was meant to transport gas from Russia to Hungary, Austria and Italy while bypassing Ukraine – also in response to the sanctions. South Stream was abandoned by Eni later that year, before it was mothballed by Moscow.

Italy instead turned its sights to the construction of the smaller Trans Adriatic Pipeline from Azerbaijan via Greece and Albania.

Germany did not pare back its Russian exposure, though.

“Europe and Russia have built an energy partnership over four decades, and there has not been a single day in that time when gas has been used as a strategic weapon against the West,” Johannes Teyssen, then-CEO of E.ON, said in 2014 in the wake of the annexation.

Furthermore, an agreement was struck in 2015 between Gazprom and companies including Germany’s E.ON and Wintershall to form a consortium to build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Germany has once again been blindsided.

A day before Moscow invaded Ukraine, Klaus-Dieter Maubach, CEO of Uniper, Germany’s largest importer of Russian gas, described Gazprom as a trustworthy supplier.

He has since changed his view.

Seven months on, Uniper is preparing to sue Gazprom for damages over supply cuts and has been bailed out to the tune of 29 billion euros ($28 billion) by the German government, which agreed in September to nationalise the company.

Germany aims to fully replace Russian gas by mid-2024, though some utilities – including top power producer RWE – reckon it could take longer than that, given alternative sources are scarce and volumes difficult to procure.

All agree it will be an expensive endeavour.

“We have relied too long and too heavily on energy supplies from Russia,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in June. “The old equation that Russia is a reliable economic partner even in crises no longer applies.”

($1 = 1.0218 euros)

(Reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan and Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt; Editing by Pravin Char)

EU heads for deal on energy windfall levies, edges towards gas price caps

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union countries are poised to approve a package of emergency measures including windfall profit levies on energy companies on Friday, at a meeting where states will also lock horns over whether to cap gas prices.

The 27 EU member countries are negotiating measures proposed by Brussels last week to attempt to contain an energy price surge that is stoking record-high inflation across the bloc and threatening a recession.

Diplomats from some European countries were confident EU energy ministers would approve the measures at a meeting on Friday – albeit with tweaks to the original EU plans, which Brussels said could raise 140 billion euros ($136 billion) for governments to spend on helping consumers and businesses cope with soaring bills.

A deal would see all EU countries impose a levy on fossil fuel companies’ surplus profits made in 2022 or 2023, and claw back revenues that low-cost power producers make from soaring electricity costs.

But even before those measures are approved, countries are pushing Brussels for further action – specifically, a gas price cap.

Fifteen countries, including France, Italy and Poland, on Tuesday urged the EU to propose a broad price cap on all wholesale gas transactions.

The European Commission shared an analysis of various options to tame gas prices with countries on Wednesday evening, which struck a sceptical tone on a wholesale gas price cap – warning it could be complex to launch, require “significant financial resources”, and cause gas supply disruptions.

The Commission said, however, that the EU should impose more limited price caps on certain supplies of gas.

“I strongly believe we need a price cap on all Russian gas imports,” EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said on Thursday.

Simson said the EU also stood ready to introduce a separate price cap, specifically on gas used in power generation. A broader cap should only be considered if EU negotiations with its pipeline gas suppliers to reduce prices fail to do this.

“Several member states are becoming more and more uneasy about not seeing a concrete (EU) response,” a senior EU official said. So far, the Commission, which drafts EU policies, has not formally proposed any price caps.

Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark are among those opposed to a gas price cap – setting up a potential scrap among countries if the EU were to propose the measure.

After discussing the issue with countries on Friday, the Commission is expected to share details next week on possible new EU measures to tame gas prices – possibly, via a cap.

($1 = 1.0261 euros)

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by David Evans and Jonathan Oatis)

Canada’s Enbridge buys U.S. green power firm Tri Global

By Nia Williams and Ruhi Soni

(Reuters) – Canadian energy infrastructure firm Enbridge Inc on Thursday said it has acquired U.S.-based renewable energy developer Tri Global Energy (TGE) for $270 million and assumed its debt.

Dallas-based TGE is the third-largest onshore wind developer in the United States, and has monetized more than 6 gigawatts (GW) of utility scale solar and wind projects since its inception in 2009.

Calgary-based Enbridge said TGE’s debt amount to $17 million and it could make up to about $50 million in additional payments as TGE completes certain projects.

The all-cash deal strengthens Enbridge’s renewables portfolio, with also includes offshore wind farms in Europe and solar projects supplying power to its oil and gas pipelines in North America.

Enbridge is best known for its network of pipelines that ship the bulk of Canadian crude to the United States, but the company said it is focused on growing its renewables portfolio, which currently makes up about 5% of the company.

“We really liked this acquisition because it accelerates the growth ambition we have in our company for renewable power and new energy generally, and low carbon infrastructure,” Matthew Akman, Enbridge’s senior vice president of strategy, power and new energy technologies, told Reuters in an interview.

The TGE deal means Enbridge does not need to make any further acquisitions in the onshore wind sector, he added.

“If you look at the amount of potential investment just in the development assets of the company that we’re acquiring here, it’s billions of dollars.”

The U.S. government recently announced substantial renewable energy tax credits through its Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Akman said the investment fundamentals for U.S. renewable power projects were improving even before the IRA thanks to an “incredible escalation” in demand for clean electricity from corporations.

The deal comes a day after Enbridge said it will sell a C$1.12 billion ($816.51 million) minority stake in seven Alberta oil pipelines to a group of Indigenous communities.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Ben Pham said Enbridge was likely recycling capital from recent asset sales to fund the TGE acquisition.

Enbridge shares were last down 1.9% at C$51.45 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

($1 = 1.3717 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ruhi Soni in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and David Gregorio)