The International Energy Agency has warned that Europe must prepare immediately for the complete severance of Russian gas exports this winter, urging governments to take measures to cut demand and keep ageing nuclear power stations open.

Fatih Birol, the head of the IEA, said Russia’s decision to reduce gas supplies to European countries in the past week may be a precursor to further cuts as Moscow looks to gain “leverage” during its war with Ukraine.”Europe should be ready in case Russian gas is completely cut off,” Birol told the Financial Times in an interview.

“The nearer we are coming to winter, the more we understand Russia’s intentions,” he said. “I believe the cuts are geared towards avoiding Europe filling storage, and increasing Russia’s leverage in the winter months.”

The IEA, which is primarily funded by members of the OECD, was last year one of the first official bodies to accuse Russia publicly of manipulating gas supplies to Europe in the build-up to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Birol said emergency measures taken by European countries this week to reduce gas demand, such as firing up old coal-fired power stations, were justified by the scale of the crisis despite concerns about rising carbon emissions.