Gas price rises: Russia not withholding supplies, says ambassador to UK

Russia is not withholding gas supplies to Europe for political reasons, the country’s ambassador to the UK has said.

Andrei Kelin said that commitments to increase supply would take time to take effect.

Gas prices globally have soared as economies start to recover from the Covid pandemic.

The US has expressed concern that Russia may be using gas as a political weapon as household bills rise.

Russia only provides about 5% of the UK’s gas usage, but it accounts for about half of the EU’s natural gas imports, with most of the rest coming from Norway and Algeria.

Some analysts have suggested Russia could be holding back supplies to Europe to speed up approval of the newly built Nord Stream 2 pipeline running directly from Russia to Germany.

This bypasses Ukraine, and has been met with objections on geo-political as well as environmental grounds, although Russia is keen for it to come on stream.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is not aware of any instances where Russia has not met contractual obligations on gas supply.ADVERTISEMENT

“Russia can only deliver gas on the basis of contractual obligations and not just like that,” she has been quoted as saying.

Gazprom, Russia’s majority state-owned energy company, supplies gas to Europe under two different arrangements: long-term contracts often lasting from 10 to 25 years, and “spot” deals or one-off purchases for a fixed amount of gas.

Data from Gazprom’s own electronic sales platform suggests very few “spot” sales are currently taking place – which would result in little gas being supplied to Europe under this mechanism.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said claims Russia is withholding gas to put pressure on Germany over Nord Stream 2 are “complete rubbish… and politically motivated tittle-tattle”.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Kelin echoed Mr Putin.

“Certainly, we do not withhold it for political reasons. But gas problems, this is at the pump stations, of course,” he said.

Mr Putin has described the gas allegations as “blather”, and yet the Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said that German Nord Stream 2 approval “would give a positive signal and cool off the current situation”.

Mr Kelin said he didn’t see “any contradiction” with that.

He said the pipeline was ready and that “we expect final go-ahead from Germany. So as soon as it will happen then of course new gas supplies will come from this pipeline”.

‘Dangerous’

Asked whether Russia would carry on increasing the amount of gas for western Europe if Germany did not approve the pipeline quickly, Mr Kelin said: “As much as we can do that.

“We have increased supplies via Ukraine pipeline by 10%, but as we understand [it] we cannot do more because the equipment at this pipeline has never been modernised and has never been reconstructed so it is simply dangerous to use it.”

When challenged about a lack of evidence that Russia has increased supply through the Ukraine by 10%, Mr Kelin said he was not a specialist in that area.

He added that supply would not increase so soon after Mr Putin announcing that it would.

He said: “Gas travels at not the speed of light of course, it goes very slowly by that.”

“So what do you expect – once the president has said, tomorrow prices will go down? This is not possible.”

When asked whether Russia was doing everything it could to get more and cheaper gas to Western Europe, Mr Kelin said Nord Stream 2 would help.

The Russian ambassador to the UK said he could not say if gas supplies would rise from November, but said there had already been a 15% increase.

Addressing whether Nord Stream 2 would give Russia huge powers over western Europe just by “using a tap”, Mr Kelin dismissed those suggestions as “nonsense” and joked whether such a tap might be in the basement of his embassy.

“Of course, it is nonsense,” he said.

Asked if gas supplies would increase from 1 November whether or not Nord Stream 2 was granted approval, Mr Kelin said: “I simply do not know. But we have, as I said, we increase it by 15% right now.”

Mr Kelin also questioned the effect of Russian gas supply on price increases in the UK, saying: “We watch what is happening in the UK, but the UK as far as I understand has only this year from Gazprom has about 3% – it is just nothing.”

He added that if there was an opportunity for “rescue we will do what we can of course to alleviate difficult conditions which are now being created through [the] crisis”.

Source: BBC

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