Russia has offered to ‘rescue’ the UK from rising energy costs by increasing gas supplies and said it was in ‘no hurry’ to reach net zero emissions.
Russia’s ambassador Andrei Kelin also denied that the country is withholding gas supplies, appearing to suggest commitments to increase supply will take time to take effect.
The Russian ambassador to the UK also said that it is his understanding that no decision has yet been taken in Russia as to whether President Vladimir Putin will attend the Cop26 climate conference being hosted in Glasgow from the end of October.
It comes after Putin accused European leaders of being ‘out of their minds’ as he denied withholding gas from the continent as a geopolitical ‘weapon’.
The Russian president insisted his country has always kept the taps into Europe open, including during the Cold War, and dismissed any suggestion that he is throttling supplies as ‘complete nonsense’.
Asked on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show if Russia understands the pressures of gas supply and price increases on people in Europe and the UK, Mr Kelin said Russia is following the situation, but appeared to play down the significance of the issues in the UK.
However, he also suggested Russia will come to the ‘rescue’ if needed – despite only about two per cent of the UK’s gas coming from the country.
Russia’s ambassador Andrei Kelin also denied that Russia is withholding gas supplies, appearing to suggest commitments to increase supply will take time to take effect
Russia has linked easing Europe’s gas crisis with approving the Nord Stream 2 pipeline (top), but experts say the Kremlin already has plenty of capacity to boost supplies without bringing the new route online (pictured)
Mr Kelin said: ‘If it will be an opportunity we will come to rescue, we will do what we can of course to alleviate difficult conditions which are now being created.’
The ambassador said Russia has increased gas supplies to assist Europe amid a global increase in prices, but also argued the country could do more if the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline were to be approved.
He also told the BBC that Russia has increased gas supplies to western Europe, and cited two different figures, an increase of both 10% and 15%.
Asked if Russia is withholding supplies for political reasons, the ambassador said: ‘Certainly we do not withhold it for political reasons’.
He said Russia has increased gas supply to western Europe through Ukraine by 10%, but added that the pipeline cannot increase capacity further. He said the Nord Stream 2 is ready to operate and that he expects Germany will give the new pipeline the go-ahead.
The new 764-mile pipe runs across the Baltic Sea to Germany, bypassing Ukraine, but has sparked opposition from the US and many eastern European countries worried about energy security and climate goals.
Asked whether Russia should aim for net zero quicker than 2060, Mr Kelin said: ‘We are not very much in a hurry, we do not want to jump. We do not believe that putting artificial goals and not very much calculated goals will help.’
The Russian ambassador to the UK also said that it is his understanding that no decision has yet been taken in Russia as to whether President Vladimir Putin will attend the Cop26 climate conference being hosted in Glasgow from the end of October
Mr Kelin’s comments follow claims that Russia has been limiting gas supplies in a bid to prod regulators in Europe into moving quickly to certify the controversial new pipeline.
Last week, Government minister Lord Agnew of Oulton said spiralling energy costs were nothing to do with supply shortages, but were due to a ‘geopolitical move’ by Russia to put pressure on Europe.
Challenged by Andrew Marr that there is no evidence in publicly available data that Russia has increased supply through Ukraine by 10%, Mr Kelin said he is not a specialist in that area, but added: ‘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 (we will supply more gas) and tomorrow prices will go down? This is not possible.’
Asked if Russia is doing everything it can to get more and cheaper gas to Western Europe, Mr Kelin said Nord Stream 2 would help to address those issues.
And asked if it gas supplies will increase from November 1 whether or not Nord Stream 2 is granted approval, Mr Kelin said: ‘I simply do not know. But we have, as I said, we increase it by 15% right now.’
Elsewhere in the interview the Russian ambassador insisted BBC news correspondent Sarah Rainsford – who was expelled from Russia earlier this year – can return to the country if visas are granted to Russian journalists to work in the UK.
The uncertainty over whether Putin will attend the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow comes as the organisers of the summit are embroiled in controversy after companies attacked it as ‘mismanaged’, reports The Guardian.
The summit’s sponsors, which include Sky, Sainsbury’s, Natwest and Unilever, have attacked the ‘shifting goalposts’ in government planning and complained about ‘very inexperienced’ civil servants for delayed decisions and poor communication between the organisers and firms.
A source said that planning was ‘deeply frustrating’, adding: ‘They had an extra year to prepare for Cop due to Covid, but it doesn’t feel like this time was used to make better progress. Everything feels very last minute.’
Why is Nord Stream 2 such a big deal?
Despite their talk of renewable energy and a greener planet, European leaders remain reliant on fossil fuels for around two thirds of their energy.
Natural gas makes up the second-largest chunk of the EU’s ‘energy mix’ – second only to oil – and was responsible for more than 20 per cent of power generation in 2020.
Almost all of that gas – around 90 per cent – is imported from outside of the bloc, with 40 per coming from Russia, which is the single-largest contributor.
Nord Stream 2 is an $11billion pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany underneath the Baltic Sea and promises to roughly double the capacity of the already-existing Nord Stream pipeline, one of four major routes through which Russian gas reaches Europe.
Begun in 2011, the line was only completed earlier this year after getting caught up in a political tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow.
The Kremlin is eager to open the line because it will allow it to sell more gas into Europe, a huge money-spinner for an economy which gets a third of all its revenue from the oil and gas sector.
It would also be a major political victory for Putin, allowing him to bypass lines that run through Ukraine and Poland – depriving both countries of large sums of money they collect for maintaining those lines.
This is seen as payback for the pair splitting from Russia’s sphere of influence by joining the EU.
Putin also hopes it will increase European reliance on Russian gas, giving him increased clout over the continent while limiting retaliatory actions – such as sanctions – that western leaders can take against him.
Several European countries – most notably Germany, which gets 75 per cent of its energy from fossil fuels and would become a major gas distributor to its neighbours once the line is open – are in favour.
But it is vehemently opposed by others, with Ukraine and Poland – perhaps unsurprisingly – being the most outspoken.
The US has historically opposed the project, fearing it will make it harder to get European leaders to take a tough stance against Russia while handing more money and power to its long-time foe.
But in a surprise move, Joe Biden effectively green-lit the completion of the project earlier this year by lifting sanctions on the company that was building it.
The sanctions had stopped construction through all of 2020, and prompted the likes of Ted Cruz to brag that the line would never pump gas.
Biden scrapped the measures in May, and the line was finished not long after. The move was seen as a sweetener to US ally Germany, but was blasted by Biden’s critics as short-sighted.
NS2 now only needs the approval of European leaders to start pumping gas, something Putin’s energy minister suggested would end the current crisis – leading to accusations that Russia is holding Europe to ransom.