Russia’s state-backed energy firm, Gazprom, is ready and willing to explore increasing exports of gas to the countries of Western Europe, Moscow has said, as a supply shortage sends tariffs soaring ahead of colder winter weather.
Speaking as part of an interview with Russia 1 news channel on Sunday, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that options were being explored to help the continent deal with the crisis. According to him, claims that Russia is deliberately turning the screws to exert political pressure on the West are unfounded, insisting that Gazprom is fulfilling all of its existing contracts and “nobody has any grounds to claim otherwise.”
“Is Gazprom ready to conclude further contracts? Of course it is, because our consumers in Europe are our main partners,” Peskov argued. However, the Kremlin official went on, increasing supplies to meet an unexpected demand is unlikely to be achieved overnight. “Underground storage facilities can’t just be pumped out in a few days by simply opening a valve,” he said. “There are technological limits.”
On Friday, Gazprom announced that it had begun pumping more gas into holding tanks in northwestern Europe in an effort to ensure it can rapidly meet additional demand if new contracts are signed.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) and a number of Western analysts have argued that Moscow could be doing more to drive down prices for consumers in the EU and UK, which have been strained by low levels of gas storage. In recent weeks, the benchmark prices for gas in much of Europe have risen by more than 250%, squeezing profit margins for industries reliant on gas as a fuel, as well as hitting consumers’ bills.
Last week, the CEO of Ukraine’s own state energy firm, Naftogaz, accused Russia of using energy supplies as a tool of influence overseas. Yuri Vitrenko told CNBC that Moscow is “using gas as a geopolitical weapon” in an effort to force through the approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Work on the underwater link has, however, already been fully completed and it is now awaiting approval by German regulators before gas can begin pumping. Earlier this month, ratings agency Fitch said that the laying of the pipeline amounted to “a geopolitical victory for Moscow.”
EU energy ministers are due to meet in Slovenia this week to agree on the bloc’s response to the rising prices and its approach to securing more supplies.
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