Vladimir Putin has denied using gas exports as a weapon against Europe as he blamed the failure to approve the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany for the energy crunch.
In a rare in-person appearance, Mr Putin last night dismissed accusations that Moscow was manipulating the supply and cost of gas as “politically motivated drivel that has nothing to do with reality".
“Russia is not using any weapons,” he told a major energy conference. “Which conflicts are we taking part in?”
Russia, the world’s largest gas supplier after the US, cut down on the flows to European gas storage earlier this year, citing an increased need for supplies at home, and stopped selling gas in the spot market.
But Mr Putin warned Europe against trying to pin the supply crunch on Russia.
“Let’s not play the blame game here as some of our partners do," he said.
European politicians had embedded “systemic flaws” in the continent’s energy system which “sparked the massive crisis in Europe”, he said.
Gas prices have been spiralling just as Europe prepares for winter amid a post-pandemic economic recovery.
Historic surge Wholesale European gas and electricity prices reach record highs
Moscow has been anxious to use the supply crunch to get Germany to issue a swift approval for Nord Stream 2, a controversial gas pipeline that seeks to cut Russia’s dependence on Ukraine for energy transit on to Europe.
Mr Putin, who said Russia was ready to help ease the crisis, lamented that Nord Stream 2 had not been approved yet.
“Tensions on the European market would have calmed down, and prices would have fallen if we were able to boost supplies in this route,” he said, speaking about Nord Stream 2.
He also expressed worry about poor maintenance of the Ukrainian pipeline bringing gas to Europe, saying that it might “burst open” if Russia were to boost the gas flows.
Nord Stream 2
Ukrainian officials have said they have been investing in the modernisation of the Soviet-era pipeline network which saw Russian gas supplies through their country drop by 17 percent in the first half of the year.
Mr Putin also berated Ukraine for complaining and said: “They could at least thank us but all we hear is insults.”
Russia has been engaged in a tug of war with Ukraine over gas transit for much of the three decades since the fall of the Soviet.
The most recent gas war between Russia and Ukraine left part of Europe freezing for about two weeks in January 2009 while the two countries were negotiating a new deal.
Ukraine’s state coffers rely on hefty transit fees for Russian gas while Moscow has been anxious to drop Ukraine as a transit country, dismissing it as an unreliable partner.
President Putin also accused Kyiv of siphoning off Russian gas that is kept in underground storage in Ukraine
Credit: Sergei Ilnitsky
President Putin accused Kyiv of siphoning off Russian gas that is kept in underground storage in Ukraine pending future shipments on to Europe. He pointed to unnamed “private companies, including foreign ones” as those stealing Russian gas.
Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas company, has not made any similar claims or commented on the president’s claims.
Russia’s top energy officials have said that Moscow is ready to sell more gas to Europe but only under new long-term contracts.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel held talks with President Putin late on Monday in a bid to secure emergency gas supplies from Russia and drive down sky-rocketing energy prices.
Meanwhile, France, Spain, Romania, Greece and the Czech Republic have called on the EU to set up joint procurement of emergency shipments from Russia as winter approaches.
The gas crisis in Europe is compounded by rising energy prices in China. Coal has reached record prices and floods have ravaged the norther mining regions fuelling power stations and manufacturing.
Mr Putin said that Russia has agreed in principle to building a second gas pipeline to China via Mongolia.
He added that Russia is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060, compared to 2050 in the UK.