Russia not withholding gas supplies to Europe for political reasons, says Andrei Kelin, Moscow's ambassador to the UK

Russia is not withholding gas supplies to Europe for political reasons, Andrei Kelin, Moscow's ambassador to the UK has said. He further 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 and others have expressed concerns 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 believe 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.

In the past decade, Russia has demonstrated a rising appetite for taking strategic risks, and it would be naive to think that the Kremlin is not willing to unleash a “bolt from the blue” in the natural gas supply realm. Planning and physically preparing for such a contingency can help deter future attempts by Russia to use gas as a coercive instrument in Western Europe, but Nord Stream-2 risks further weakening Western Europe’s resolve to take such measures in a timely fashion.

Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, July 18th 2017.

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

"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".

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."

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